How My Number 1 Rule as a Freelancer Has Changed

For the past several years, I've had one main rule as a freelance writer: never say no.

I've said yes to work that I had absolutely no interest in doing. I've said yes to work that I really didn't have time to do, but made time for anyway. I've said yes to work that I wasn't actually qualified to do. I've said yes to work that I was probably pretty overqualified to do. And I've said yes to work when the client couldn't pay me what I thought I deserved to be paid. 

In general, following this rule has served me well. I've developed great relationships with valuable clients who know they can always reach out to me for an assignment, even if the turnaround time is really tight. Building these relationships over the past four years has allowed me to also grow my rates alongside my level of experience. For the most part, I've been lucky enough to work with great people who value my work. 

But lately I've started thinking about that "no" word and what it means to me professionally. When you never know for sure where your next assignment (or paycheck) is coming from, turning down work can feel completely counterintuitive - especially if taking work that may not be ideal could lead to a new client relationship and better work down the line. However, I've also learned one very important lesson about working for myself: if you don't value your own work, no one else ever will. 

Recently, I was approached by a potential new client who sent me an assignment for a 2,000 word blog post that needed X amount of links and X amount of images...and, oh yeah, it needed to be finished ASAP. Even though I was a little put off by the approach, I decided to bite. I wrote back with a few questions and included a quote for what I would need to complete that amount of work in that amount of time. (It's important to note here that a year or so ago, I would have written back and asked what the client was willing to pay. Naming my own prices has been a difficult, but necessary part of my development as a freelancer.)

When I heard back, this potential new client was flabbergasted by what, in my opinion, was a completely reasonable rate. He (very graciously) told me that he couldn't afford to pay even a third of what I was asking and admitted we probably weren't a great fit to work together. There was a big part of me that wanted to write back, "But wait! Please don't walk away! I'll do it!" Instead I just thanked him for thinking of me and wished him well. 

It was only the second time in my nearly four years as a freelancer that I turned down work. And while I am still likely to say yes far more than I say no, I've learned that my number one rule now comes with a caveat. As long as there is work available, I'm still going to take on more than I have time for and I still won't bat an eye when a client asks for a tight turnaround. But I'm seeking work that values me as a writer and as a professional - and I won't hesitate to say no if that isn't the case.