Lose a Freelance Writing Gig? Here’s What to Do

It happens to freelance writers all the time. But people don’t talk about it.

Sometimes, you don’t get the gig – and your “hot lead” goes somewhere else.

Depending on how you’re feeling, it may be hard to face this kind of “rejection.”

You may have spent hours carefully combing through a client’s site and creating a highly detailed proposal.

Maybe you spent a couple hours with the client going back and forth about her specific needs.

Heck, sometimes the client almost promises you the gig and says something like, “The proposal is only a formality. We love your work.”

No matter what – or how – it happened, the emotions range from mildly irritated to deeply devastated. No matter how OK you are with the decision, there’s always a little part of you that wonders what happened – or what to do next.

Here’s what to do.

  1. Take a deep breath and relax. If your cash flow is touch and go, losing a gig can put you in a panicked tailspin. If you need to, take time away from the computer and do something physical (and no, that doesn’t mean punching your prospect – it means taking a walk.) You won’t be able to do anything real until you clear your head, so get yourself back on track.
  2. Know that the decision has nothing to do with you personally. It’s business. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a personal lesson to learn. But what it does mean is the company isn’t rejecting you as a person. Easy to read, but hard to remember when you really, really thought you had the gig. Speaking of which…
  3. Never act like you have the gig until the contract is signed and the check is cleared. Attaching yourself to an unsure outcome sets you up for a major emotional crash later.
  4. When your head is clear, contact the prospect and ask them for feedback. Do not do this within 30 seconds of learning that the job went somewhere else. No matter how “centered” you think you’re acting, you’ll come across needy and desperate. Waiting until your head clears allows you to ask intelligent questions like, “Was there something I didn’t address in the proposal that you needed to see?” That helps get the dialog ball rolling, and you’ll hopefully receive some quality feedback.
  5. When you receive the feedback, consider it carefully. Did the prospect say that your price was “too high?” Either you didn’t qualify the prospect correctly, or you didn’t showcase your value. Did they like another firm’s work better? Why do you think that is? Don’t get defensive (or blow off the comments because you don’t agree with them.) Merely consider them.
  6. Know that the decision has nothing to do with you personally. I know I said this already. It bears repeating. :)
  7. Consider how you should change your sales process based on the feedback. Look at your case study/marketing materials and see what could be improved. Ask yourself if following up more (or less) would help conversions. Consider different ways to showcase your value. What could you do differently?
  8. Considering how you should change your proposal process. Do you find yourself spending hours creating detailed proposals? Think of ways to streamline your proposals so they’re not such a time suck – and your prospect still gets the exact information they need. A fast road to Bummerville is thinking, “Well, that’s 20 hours of my time down the drain.”
  9. Consider if you should focus on a new target audience, too. If you consistently hear that your prices are “too high” and you’re working with mom and pop retailers, well, you probably are priced too high. Changing your target audience could change your cash flow, too.
  10. Shake it off and move on. Just like there are many men in the sea, there are many clients swimming around the Web.  Throughout your career, you will be “rejected” many times – yet, have many, many more successes. When you’ve learned what you can, set your sights on a new client. The lessons you’ve learned from “losing” the gig will make your next victory that much sweeter (and more profitable, too!).
9 replies
  1. Laura says:

    Thank you so very much for addressing this huge yet understated issue that all of us face. Your advice is obviously rooted in your years’ of experience, and it is most comforting to know that we all go through this. Taking the knocks and learning from them is part of the process, and guess what? You’re all the more savvy and successful because of it!

    • Heather says:

      You are very welcome. It’s easy to feel like it’s “just you” who is losing gigs – or there’s something wrong with you personally when it happens. It is what it is – and there’s always a better opportunity around the corner. :)

  2. Amy C. Teeple says:

    First, I must say I LOVE this line:
    “If you need to, take time away from the computer and do something physical (and no, that doesn’t mean punching your prospect – it means taking a walk.)”

    Walking is good and if you run, that’s even better. If you really want to get out your frustration in these moments, invest in a punching bag and some boxing gloves. Let’s not lie – it feels good to hit things sometimes. ;-)

    I think these tips are important for us to remember – especially as freelancers or solopreneurs. It can be difficult to not take things personally.

    It IS important to learn from the leads that didn’t turn into clients. But also remember, sometimes NOT getting a client can be a huge blessing in disguise!

    • Heather says:

      Hehe, VERY true Amy. I have “lost” some clients only to realize – wow – it really wouldn’t have been a good fit. At all. Definitely a blessing! :)

  3. Adam says:

    May I also add one more thought…

    When sending an email to follow-up on a proposal on which you have not any word for a while, don’t ask for feedback on why you might not have gotten it.

    I did this and then within an hour read this article/post and realized how defeatist it read.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, Adam – and don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all had conversations with prospects where we’ve thought, “Doh. Wish I wouldn’t have said that.” The stuff that makes uscringe is like one big learning experience. :)

  4. Deb Ward says:

    What a great topic! We have all had this experience and it helps to remember these tips. Thanks for taking the time to reflect on this and share some good takeaways.


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