As a freelancer and an entrepreneur, you have a striking tenacity for chasing after opportunities and business connections wholeheartedly. Depending on your personality, you may also find that you are loyal and never like to walk away from a deal or a partnership. But sometimes, there are good reasons to say No. Here are some tips on knowing the right time to cut your losses and move on.
1) All You Want is a Little Respect
Nobody likes to be ill-treated, right? And yet in the midst of negotiating a deal, whether with a potential client or partner, it’s likely that sometimes things will get a bit heated. You may not be able to provide the services in the time frame and at the price that the other party is expecting. You may feel like they are insulting your professional integrity.
This is not the time to walk away from a deal, not yet. Keep your cool, and take this opportunity to explain in detail how your business works, why your pricing has to remain where it is, and why it takes a certain length of time to do the work. On that last point in particular, we freelancers know we’re constantly having to juggle several projects at once. Explain that if you were to do the work faster and give them your exclusive time, it would harm your ability to provide services to existing clients as well as other important leads.
So when is it the right time to break things off? If you have shown some flexibility to give the other party a break and have communicated, clearly and calmly, why you can’t give in any further, and they are still unwilling to accept your offer in a timely fashion, don’t hesitate and don’t feel guilty. Walk away. You can do this in a professional manner and keep the door open should they change their mind. I have found that there are only two outcomes to standing your ground and maintaining your principles: either the other party walks away, in which case it’s probably best for the both of you, or they come back to the table and you close the deal—in which case you are on a much more solid footing to work closely together in a productive manner.
2) Right Idea, Wrong Audience
Finding leads and following up on them is the name of the game in our business. So it’s tempting to join as many networking groups, chambers, associations, clubs, etc., etc., as you possibly can. The problem with all of this networking is it can be misguided energy that is better utilized to serve paying clients and build a stronger business.
Talk to any freelancer (myself included), and they’ll tell you that word-of-mouth is one of the most effective and most frequent ways to gain business. So networking seems like a great idea, because you are intentionally making the connections you need for word-of-mouth to flourish. Here’s where it can go haywire: when it’s the wrong audience.
Every network is going to have a certain dynamic. I was in a professional networking group for a while when I came to realize the dominant business dynamic was finance & legal. Most of the opportunities going back and forth were between realtors and mortgage brokers, insurance brokers and financial planners, tax preparers and attorneys, and so forth. Over the course of several months, they passed tens of thousands of dollars of business. I made $0. Actually, I lost money because the group required monthly dues.
So I made the tough decision to walk away. Not only that, I pulled back from every networking group I was in to re-evaluate what to focus on and who. Shortly thereafter, an opportunity came my way to join a no-dues business networking group built around those of a similar faith to my own (Christian). If I hadn’t said No to the relationships that weren’t working, I might not have had the time or ability to say Yes to ones that have proven to be very successful. I am now making stronger, more prosperous connections, and saving money in the bargain.
There are many “right ideas” in business, but you won’t get anywhere with them unless you know the right people. Make sure you have the right audience for your message.
3) Nunchuck Skills, Bowhunting Skills, Computer Hacking Skills
If you’re a solo freelancer and happy to stay that way, this may not apply to you. But oftentimes we find ourselves in situations where we have to work on projects together with other people—and I’m talking about peers, not clients.
It is very, very important to chose your peers wisely. Whether you are part of a startup or consulting firm, or whether you are simply partnering with other freelancers to offer a wider range of services, who you work with and how you work with them is crucial to the health of the business and, frankly, your own health!
The key to successful business partnerships is mixture. You need the proper ingredients for the whole thing to come out right. This mixture is a seamless blend of vision, values, and complimentary skills. You need to share a common vision of what the future holds. You must embody similar values of how to conduct business in terms of ethics, style, and practical matters. And finally, you need great skills.
I was in a situation where I woke up one day and realized I was in the middle of a mess. The firm I was with at the time had an overabundance of computer hacker skills, and we were desperately missing nunchuck and bowhunting—sorry, I mean we were missing important promotional skills and creative skills. We needed the promotional talent to help us communicate what we did effectively and generate buzz (aka marketing!). We needed extra creative skills to wow clients with our multimedia abilities. We could write code all day and all night, but if we couldn’t deliver polished products on time and turn leads into customers, it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans.
It’s never the wrong time to walk away from a partnership or engagement if the mixture is all off (legalities aside). The longer you stick with it despite insurmountable obstacles, the more likely there will be resentment and hard feelings later on. It may seem very painful and difficult to leave, especially if there’s no clear opportunity waiting on the other side, but it’s like a taking off a Band-Aid. The sooner you get it over with, the better.
Find the right people to work with where your skills nicely complement each other, you have a similar vision and set of goals for the future, and you share important values in common. It may take time, but it is totally worth it. You may have to say No a few times in order to be able to say Yes, but that Yes will be incredibly valuable.
What are your experiences with walking away?
We all have our battle scars and stories to tell. What are yours? When have you stuck with it until the end and achieved victory, and when have you cut your losses and moved on to greener pastures? We’d love to hear your thoughts!