Exercising the right to accept or decline work is, in my opinion, one of the best things about owning one’s own business. And yet some editorial professionals feel guilty about saying no. What's to be done?
Some of us have experienced a situation where we have to withdraw from an ongoing project because of what one of my colleagues calls “scope creep”. Here, the originally agreed terms of the work have been breached by the client, rendering continuation of the project non-viable unless new terms can be negotiated that are acceptable to both parties. This demonstrates why it’s important to clarify the parameters of any editorial project before an agreement is made to carry out the work.
How to pull out of existing project work is beyond the scope of this article. Here I’m focusing on saying no to the offer of editorial work prior to commencement of the project, and how guilt should not be part of the editorial business-owner’s decision to so.
In Part I, I look at the reasons for accepting or declining work, how some editorial freelancers talk about feeling guilty, and how those statements stack up against the reality of what’s going on.
In Part II, I’ll consider some simple ways of saying no that make it clear that the project is being declined, why this decision is being made, and what the client can do to find an alternative supplier. I’ll also explore the dangers of using an over-pricing strategy to deter an unwanted client, and consider how the guilt-ridden editorial pro might place her feelings within an adapted 10/10/10 framework in order to move forward with a decision that’s in her business's best interests.
Reasons to accept and reasons to decline
I might decline a proofreading project for one, or several, of the following reasons:
It’s my business and my choice
Whether I accept or decline, the choice is mine. I’m not bound to carry out proofreading work that, for whatever reason, I don’t wish to. There’s no boss telling me that our company is contractually bound to do A or B, or that I must work for X, even though I find dealing with X stressful, intimidating, infuriating, or upsetting.
I choose the hours I need/wish to work. I choose the type of editorial work I carry out (in my case, proofreading). I choose the material I feel comfortable with. I decide whether a fee is acceptable based on my needs and wants.
Ultimately, I can decline a project for no other reason than I simply don’t fancy doing it. End of story.
Despite having control over the choices they can make, it’s not uncommon to hear editorial freelancers say they feel guilty about not accepting a job:
The reality ...
Now let's look at the above 4 scenarios from the perspective of the editorial business owner:
No isn’t negative
Psychologist Judith Sills (2013) argues that “No – a metal grate that slams shut the window between one's self and the influence of others – is rarely celebrated. It's a hidden power because it is both easily misunderstood and difficult to engage” and “it is easily confused with negativity”.
So, when we decline work, we need think of the decision not in terms of negative impact on our clients, but rather in terms of the positive impact on our editorial businesses.
In Part II, we’ll look at ways to communicate an uncomplicated “no” message, and consider an adapted version of Suzy Welch’s 10/10/10 framework that should help the guilt-ridden editorial pro to say no with greater confidence.
About Louise Harnby
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader's Parlour. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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