Monday, October 22, 2007

Knowing When To Walk Away From A Writing Job

It became painfully clear to me this morning that I had bit off more than I wanted to chew. I’m learning in this business that (to quote the famous song) you have to know when to walk away and know when to run!

The e-mails back and forth from the client before he gave me the green light should’ve been my first clue that he would be high maintenance. High maintenance isn’t uncommon in this business but it can make a job less profitable.

My first clue should have been that a 600 word article with 100 words worth of keywords is going to produce a so-so keyword article and when the client seems high maintenance it’s a red flag. You can’t possibly expect stellar quality copy with that ratio of keywords.

I think I did pretty well under the circumstances even though I had to go to 660. The email back was about a mile long with comments and suggestions for the rewording. I was only charging 2 cents a word and he had 4 more articles to go with the same level of keywords per article. I knew at the moment I got his mile long dissection of my first article with bolds, underlines and italics throughout that it was time to back away. I toyed with the idea of giving his rewrite a try and then decided to trust my gut instinct which usually doesn’t fail me.

Here was my reply:

Dear _____,
I charged my rate for standard keyword articles and frankly the number of keywords made it very difficult to get a good flow going with the article.

I'm concerned that the rewrites will be far too excessive for the rate I have charged. Judging by the length of your e-mail to me it appears that for each article I do for you I will have several rewrites to do on each article until you are satisfied. I'm not faulting you for having a specific need and expecting it to be delivered I'm just pretty sure that I didn't reflect that in my quote to you. .02/per word is for standard SEO articles and your article requirements now appear to be much more than that. I typically have no problem with a minor rewrite if I didn't deliver according to the brief but based on the keyword ratio, the word count and the expectation that every article will result in a rewrite I think I need to back out of this project.

Based on the descriptions you gave and all your directions I don't think I was able to accurately estimate the time and effort involved. Your response to me on the first one tells me that you have specific wants and needs and my expectation is that you will have a rewrite request for each article I write. Based on the rate I have quoted I'm expecting one set of instructions at the beginning of the project and the ability to meet them easily.

Based on my current work load I will have to refund your deposit. I'm sorry if this causes problems for you but while I have a high standard of quality in my work I don't feel that level of work you desire is something I can deliver based on the rate I charged you or my schedule availability.

With Regrets,

Note to readers: Learn when to walk. I only charged $60 for 5 articles and know for a fact it would’ve resulted in at least 10 or more emails back and forth and several rewrite attempts. Before we even got started on the first one I had an e-mail trail of 15+ emails. The time it takes you to do the pre-sales support on a job can make the job unprofitable if you aren’t careful and while you want to satisfy a customer and produce work that they want, you need to be sure that you know up front what you are getting yourself into. I’m sorry that I left this man without his articles but know I’d have resented the job in the end because it would’ve cost me money to do it.

The client replied graciously and wished me well. Although he probably wasn’t pleased to have to go back to the drawing board and find another writer, I hope that he respected that I advised him straight away and understood my reasoning.

A year ago I would take any job for any amount of pay just to be able to write. I'd probably also take any amount of abuse and rework thrown at me. Today I have learned that time is money and there’s more to the fees than just the price per word.


Sharon Hurley Hall said...

It's a tough decisions, but I think you did the right thing, Dana. I'm facing a similar issue myself.

Lillie Ammann said...

There are times when you have to walk away. I just backed out of a dissertation-editing project when the number of phone calls I received from the client before we even started indicated he would be way too high maintenance. He hadn't paid his deposit yet, though, so I didn't have to refund anything.

MLH said...

Sounds like you had to do what you had to do. Glad that you were able to save yourself from some grief!

suewrite said...

I think you were right to do this Dana. It is no good working on a job that fuels resentment.

Amanda Evans said...

Hi Dana,

Well done, it is often hard to admit defeat when it comes to writing but when a project is not what it seems we sometimes have to bite the bullet and say no. I faced a similar situation a while back with a client. The first project was an e-book which was business orientated and took longer than expected to finish for the price quoted but I got through it. The second project was where I had to be strong and say no. This client wanted another e-book but this time there was no research information. Basically he wanted to create a business strategy using a number of different company directives. I had to turn him down. I explained to him that I was not qualified in business writing and that he would have to find someone else. I know that I was turning money away but to be quite honest what he was looking for was someone to create something new and unheard of and I just wasn't prepared to do this, not for the rate I charged anyway.

It's always hard to turn away work but in the end it is your reputation as a quality writer that counts.


allena at said...

i HEAR you on this whole "backing out" thing Dana! ~Allena