This will spare you untold agony. And it can shape your career for the better.
Let me explain.
We freelancers must occasionally endure a lot of crap that never besets our properly-employed bretheren.
Such as the client who doesn’t send the damn check. Clients who can’t make up their minds.
Clients who themselves can’t design a whit, but tell us to shave two pixels off the height of the navbar. The client who says “I can get it cheaper.”
Clients who want eleventeen pounds of work for six dollars. The client who doesn’t send the damn check.
Okay, so that is sometimes our lot. But we do not whine and whimper.
As the aging mobster Hyman Roth reminds Michael Corleone in Godfather II: “This . . . is the business we’ve chosen.”
In return, however, we are granted a saving grace.
We have, always within reach, the ultimate pressure-relief valve, a soul-satisfying way to preserve sanity, dignity and bank account.
The freelancer’s right to bail.™
This is your irrevocable right to beg off, turn down, or walk away from any client, any project, any situation that threatens to maim the wallet, taint the soul, or turn one into a shameless hooker.
Unlike the hapless salaried employee, who is obliged to eat whatever the boss ladles onto his plate, we are always free to say, “No thanks.”
“I’ll pass.” “This isn’t a good fit.” “You’d be better off with a different writer.” “Find yourself a new sap.”
No, this is not about being a quitter, a scaredy-cat candy-ass who can’t take the heat. It’s not about being a prima donna who won’t soil her hands in a little skunk work now and then. It’s not about leaving a client hanging because “I’m just not, you know, sort of feeling it right now.”
(We are pros, after all. Incorrigible renegades, maybe. But still pros.)
The right to bail™ is about deciding, day by day, project by project, client by client, what we will do, and what we won’t do. Whom we will work with, and whom we will not. Based on whatever our mission is at the time.
I know. In “an economy like this” walking away from work sounds like the most foolish kind of heresy.
But understand: You will not invoke this right often. You will not invoke this lightly. (And you will never invoke this right in a fit of anger, or after way too many beers, he said from experience. Wait until morning.)
Indeed, the beauty is, you need never actually use this right at all.
For most of us, just knowing we are not permanently shackled to this client, or to this sinking ship of a project is enough to keep our spirits up, our heads on straight.
It’s comforting just to reach over and finger that ripcord on your vest, even if you never actually pull the damn thing.
Ah. And if you ever do invoke the right to bail™, the effect is usually profound.
Some clients will be incensed, insulted. (What? You refuse me?). That’s okay. Not every client is worth having.
Others will be brought up short. Your status rises. They will look at you anew. (Hey, maybe we can talk about this.) That may lead to good things. These are your best clients.
Some clients, of course, won’t give a shit. Which is okay. Not every client is worth having.
Sad to say, but some of the most satisfying moments I’ve had as a freelancer weren’t always the huge wins, but the times when I said, “No thanks.” When I asserted my sovereignty. (Like last week, for example.)
The jobs and clients you don’t take will shape your fortunes just as much as the jobs you do accept.
Yeah, and there’s this.
We’re the ones who usually hear the ‘no.’ (“No, we don’t need any help right now. No, we like the freelancers we have. No, we won’t pay that. No, we’re not going ahead with that project.”)
So every once in a while, every now and then, it feels good to turn the tables.
Yeah, it’s childish. Yeah, it may not always be bean-counter logical.
But sometimes, it just freakin’ feels good to say, “No thanks.”
We need that, every now and then.