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The best way to pass on a project

Tribune Content Agency logo Tribune Content Agency 4/18/2021 Kathleen Furore, Tribune Content Agency
a hand holding a knife: Turning down a job isn’ t unusual. © Dreamstime/TNS Turning down a job isn’ t unusual.

DEAR READERS: Turning down a project is something most independent contractors avoid at almost all costs. But there are times when they’re pretty sure a freelance or “gig” assignment won’t be worth the time and effort for the fee involved. I’ve had a conversation about this with many freelance professionals in the past, and they’ve all mentioned that they’re never quite sure about the best way to pass on a project without hurting their chances to take on more work from that client in the future.

a woman smiling for the camera: Kathleen Furore. © Provided by Tribune Content Agency Kathleen Furore.

As Cristy Brusoe, founder of Brusoe Communications, notes, “Turning down [a job] happens. Sometimes it’s simply not worth the time/money and other times you don’t have the bandwidth.”

That said, Brusoe stresses that maintaining solid relationships with current and potential clients is a critical part of the process.

“While you may never be a fit for the client, they may have connections you do want to work with,” she explains. “Along with that, you don’t want to burn bridges in the industry. Therefore, you must find an eloquent way to pass on the work, while still maintaining a positive relationship.”

If you find yourself faced with having to turn work down, consider these tips on how to pass without burning any business-building bridges.

1. Be upfront. Julie Titterington, Chief Culture Officer of Merchant Maverick, says those two words represent her best advice. Why? “Most employers are looking for one key ingredient in a contractor and that is reliability,” Titterington explains. “But reliability and availability are not one and the same. Part of being a reliable contractor is good communication, including clear and firm communication regarding the kind of work you will and won’t take on.”

In fact, she says most employers actually prefer hiring freelancers who occasionally turn work down but who can always be counted on to complete their projects.

“What employers don’t want is to hire someone who is just OK with quality but has trouble meeting deadlines,” she says. “If you value the client but don’t want the job, just say so.”

2. Look ahead. “Be gracious and explain to the client that your plate is full at the moment, but you’d love to stay in touch as future needs arise,” Brusoe suggests.

3. Act as an intermediary. Recommending someone who might be able to take on the project shows you care about the company even though you’re unable or unwilling to take it on yourself, Brusoe says. “If you know/trust someone in your professional network who could potentially take on the work, act as a middleman and connect the two sides,” she recommends.

Ultimately, says Titterington, it boils down to clarifying that you enjoy the work they send your way, that you’ll take it as often as you can, but that you don’t always have time or availability for every project.

“If that’s a dealbreaker, it’s fine,” Titterington stresses. “There will always be other clients. But as an independent contractor, you need to place a proper value on your own time; your job is not to be on call for every available project, large or small.”

(Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.)

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