When we freelance copywriters/independent web ninjas first started out, any business was good business. Most of us – myself included – finally quit that hated job with one, two months’ savings in the bank and a stack of incoming bills that wouldn’t wait. Any paying gig was cause for celebration!
For those of us who have been blessed with success, however, it doesn’t stay this way for long. The list of clients and projects grows, our calendars fill up farther and farther in advance and our rate structure evolves. Many of us find ourselves working 80 hour weeks to keep up, wondering why on earth we thought being independently employed would be relaxing!
These growing pains can be a great opportunity to improve – to carve out a shorter workweek and a higher income. Finding a good assistant and outsourcing tasks like bookkeeping and taxes can be a big help, but the strategy that has been most helpful to me in building a more efficient, profitable business has been learning to say no.
Specializing in Your Strengths
When I started my web marketing gig, I cast a wide net to get more business. I offered everything, from PPC management to social media consulting. As my calendar began to fill up, I realized that some of these services were much more profitable – and enjoyable – than others.
My AdWords PPC management projects, for example, were time intensive and stressful, with a very small profit margin. Most importantly, I didn’t enjoy doing it. So I axed it from my catalog, informed my clients that I would no longer be offering this service and cringed, waiting for them to tell me that they hated me. They didn’t. They understood, and some even thanked me for the work I’d done. The sky didn’t collapse, my client base didn’t disappear and my business had more time to dedicate to my higher paying services: SEO and copywriting!
Everyone has a niche in which they really excel, whether it’s writing for a certain industry or consulting on a certain topic. When we’re working in our areas of expertise, we tend to enjoy our work more, and when we enjoy our work, we tend to be faster, more efficient and more effective – with happier clients! When our work is at its best, we can justify charging better rates, allowing us to work less for more pay.
Matchmaking Clients with Your Business
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at some point we all learn that not every client is a good fit for our business. Maybe the client’s business philosophy clashes with yours, causing you to feel like you’re “selling out.” Maybe the client isn’t respectful of your time, continually asking for unbillable hours on the phone. Or maybe the client is simply asking you to provide a service outside of your specialty. Saying “no” to these ill-fitted opportunities will free up your time and energy for projects which are more enjoyable and financially rewarding.
Ways to Say “No” to a Client or Project (Graciously)
It’s not personal – it’s business. When you’re upfront and honest about the reason behind your decision, most clients and leads will understand. Some may even respect your honesty and provide future referrals. Being gracious and honest (read: not an emotional, stressed-out basketcase) about your decision can go a long way in strengthening your reputation.
Whenever possible, refer leads/clients to a known service provider. This is a common courtesy that allows you to let clients down without leaving them in the lurch.
- “This really isn’t my area of expertise. Let me refer you to someone who’s better qualified to help you.”
- “After careful consideration, I’ve decided my services aren’t the best fit for your business. Let me refer you to someone who might be a better fit for your business model.”
Negotiating Those Unbillable Hours
If your problem with the client is too many unbillable hours or that you’re simply not making enough money from their projects, the simplest thing to do is to reorganize your rate structure until you are making a decent profit.
- “After analyzing my profit margin on project xyz, I’ve decided that in order to continue offering the same level of quality, it’s necessary for me to raise my rate from $xyz to $xyw. Please let me know if we can continue working together at this rate.”
- “I’ve reviewed my timesheet for the past X months/weeks and have found a high number of unbillable hours spent on project X. In order for me to continue working on this project, I will need to begin marking phone conferences and X hours spent on monthly project management as billable.”
The client may decide to accept the new rates/billable hours, or they may walk away and find another service provider, leaving you room for a new, higher-paying client. Either way, you’ve done the right thing for your business.
Marjorie Steele is a poet turned copywriter turned web business ninja who specializes in small business. When not battling a hectic schedule or building links with great content, Marjorie dabbles in organic cooking and idolizes Tina Fey.