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When not to take that writing gig

A man with a laptop sitting in the middle of the road

Many of us who sling a freelance keyboard for a living do a lot of hustling for work. As you’ve probably learned on your journey to becoming a freelancer, not all writing jobs are created equally. For a variety of reasons, their quality varies. Yes, some jobs are better than others.

Whether you’re just starting out and trying to build your portfolio and clients, or if you’re established and trying to make your living as a full-time freelance writer, there are times when you just shouldn’t take a gig.

Let’s look at a few of those situations.

The pay is too low

While I, and other freelance writers I know, don’t expect to become rich plying our craft, we do expect a fair rate — whether by the hour or by the word or by the project. Unfortunately, not all clients see it that way.

There are people out there who want to get services as cheaply as possible. To get what they want, they cut the price drastically. That could be offering $200 for a project that will take 40 hours. It could be offer $10 for a 500-word article or blog post. It could be an offer of $1,000 to research and ghostwrite an ebook.

You’ll either be losing money on the gig or producing poor-quality work. Neither of those will help your continued career as a professional writer.

You don’t have enough experience or the right skills for the job

There’s a lot to be said for learning on the job. As a freelance writer, though, you don’t have that luxury. To use a cliché from the business world (one that I hate, by the way), you’re expected to hit the ground running. You’re expected to get in, do the job, then get out.

You can try inflating your experience and, as another cliché goes, faking it ‘till you make it. You might get away with it once or twice. But there will come a time when you’ll flounder. You’ll fail. You’ll get caught out. When that happens, your reputation will take a dent or two. And, believe me, word gets around fast.

Don’t take that risk. Pass on the gig instead. Doing that will be better for everyone, especially you.

The client isn’t right

Sometimes you get a sense of a potential client during your initial consultation and communication with them. That sense could be one of This is a great gig. Or it could be This client isn’t right for me.

You can usually spot the latter kind of client quickly. That kind of client usually has a long list of requirements, isn’t willing to negotiate fees or deadlines, and has a generally suspicious or aggressive demeanour. Or, the client could be very vague about what they want. That’s usually a sign they’ll change their mind. Often.

If you get the feeling that the client isn’t right for you, then back away. Do it politely — tell them that the project isn’t a good fit for you. It probably isn’t.

You could also find yourself in a situation where you had a bad experience with a client and they’ve actually come back to you. Several years ago, I had such an experience with a client. That client was never satisfied, was hypercritical of my work, and constantly told me he could find someone who could do a better job for half the price. I told him to feel free to do so and washed my hands of him and his project. A few weeks later, he came back to me — his cheaper and supposedly better option bombed out. I told him Thanks, but no thanks. He just wasn’t worth the mental anguish.

You’re asked to write about something you’re uncomfortable with

In 2012, I was approached to ghostwrite a series of opinion pieces on a topic. The pay was good, and I could have easily written those articles. But I politely but firmly turned the gig down.

Why? The point of view I was being asked to express was the opposite of my ideas and beliefs on that subject. Although I could have written a good series of articles, I wouldn’t have been comfortable with doing that even though they wouldn’t have been under my name.

If a writing gig, no matter how good, goes contrary your personal or moral or political or religious beliefs then turn it down. No amount of money is worth compromising your beliefs for.

It can be hard to turn down a writing gig, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re an established freelance writer. Sometimes, though, you’re better off saying No, thank you.

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