Building Your Perfect Life: On Turning Down Work

I’m about to do a weird thing: I’m about to turn down a job. This flies in the face of my recession-honed instincts, and stokes the the but-now-I-have-no-corporate-overlord fears about ending up in a refrigerator box. More jobs mean more money, more money means more of a cushion if there aren’t jobs later.

Sometimes, however, more jobs means less energy for my own work, for the work I am trying desperately to get off the ground. I’ve learned to prioritize two things with jobs:

  1. A good pay rate
  2. Lack of drama-llamas

These are actually the same issue, but more on that in a moment.

The good pay rate should be self-explanatory, but I find I often have to explain this to people. I have taken my monthly expenses and divided them by 20, approximating working days in a month, and then I subtract the number of days “paid for” by royalties I made two months ago, as they’re paid on a two-month lag. Those “paid for” days can be used for my own work. For the rest, there is the rate I absolutely need to hit, and then a rate I strive for as my experience increases. So when I look at jobs, I estimate how much time it’s going to take, and then see if it falls within the range between my necessary rate and ideal rate. (Or higher. I could go higher, too.)

So I have my rate, and I have the returns on my own work. My rates on my own work are steadily climbing, and have now reached 54% of my ideal daily rate and 67% of the daily rate I most frequently get (I’m working on bringing those two into line).

Which brings me to turning down jobs. If someone came up to you and offered you two thirds of your requested salary for a job, you’d probably turn them down flat. However, as a freelancer, your pay rate is dependent upon how much time is going to be taken up with re-work, and while pinning down expectations can substantially minimize this, you might still end up with some.

Which means you have to develop a spidey-sense. Because if a job is going to create rework request after rework request, stressing you out and ruining your creativity, it is not worth it. You might as well have been working on your own projects, or at the very least, spending that time searching for new clients. Say it with me again: it is not worth it. Avoid the drama llamas of rework. Avoid them like the plague.

(This isn’t to say that you have to be rude. In fact, if someone offers you a job that doesn’t pay well enough, most freelancing sites allow you to turn it down without ever being in contact with that person. Simply learn to say, “I won’t be able to accept this job,” or, “that’s out of my price range” politely but without apology, and get on with doing other excellent work.)

Meanwhile, without further ado, here are a list of things that foretell the possibility of rework drama llamas and Generally Bad Freelancing Conditions:

  1. Looking for “only the highest quality work.” I have yet to see a single job posting that asked for the highest quality work that does not also pay less than every other comparable job available. By now, I don’t even bother reading them. (Actually, that’s a lie, every once in a while I get sucked in. Still the same thing.)
  2. Promising that what you create will be a bestseller. In a former life, I did some finance work, and we were cautioned about all of the laws around guaranteeing returns. I’m not in that world anymore and so the rules don’t apply, I guess, but I’ve developed a hardcore mistrust of anyone who does promise such things.
  3. Jobs that ask for unpaid trials first. Asking for a sample of work with the resume is one thing (if you want to ghostwrite, you have to show that you can write, after all), but asking you to edit, write, compose, or whatever for free, putting in a significant time investment, is Not Cool.
  4. Bad vibes. I can’t even describe this. It’s like when you meet that one person at work or in a social setting who just…seems like bad news. It’s so much fun! They’re so charismatic! You wish you could get away with coming back from lunch tipsy and telling secrets in the cubicles. But you know. You know it’s going to go down in flames. You know with clients, too. Trust your gut.

Are there any you would add to this list, internet?


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