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When to Turn Down a Project

   |   MBO Partners   |   October 18, 2017

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As an independent consultant, particularly if you’re new to the field, it’s tempting to accept every prospective project that comes your way. After all, clients and the projects they provide are your sources of income. However, just because an opportunity is presented doesn’t mean the project is right for your business. Here are four situations in which you may be better off turning down the work.

1. You’re Overbooked

Every project you take on will require resources, time, energy, and focus. When presented with a new opportunity, consider your current obligations and make an honest determination of whether or not you have too much on your plate. Taking on a new project that you don’t truly have time for risks overpromising yourself to the client and also potentially putting a healthy work-life balance at risk.

Though it may seem like a nice problem to have, having too much work is just that—a problem. If you take on more than you can handle you may end up disappointing your current clients and damaging your professional reputation. As a backup, keep track of good independent colleagues you can trust so you can refer the client to them for work, or partner with one of your contacts to subcontract the work and manage the client relationship.

2. You Can’t Meet the Client’s Expectations

When a client approaches you with the details of a new project, there is often some flexibly in their requirements. However, if after discussing their requested parameters you find that you are unable to meet their non-negotiable needs, walk away.

Do not agree to terms that you cannot fulfill. Whether the client has a hard deadline that you know will be impossible for you to meet, requirements beyond your expertise or a budget that would force you to unreasonably lower your billing rate, declining the work will benefit both of you in the end.

3. When the Job Conflicts with Your Values

One of the benefits of working for yourself as an independent consultant is the ability to choose the jobs that you want to work on. In fact, our State of Independence in America study found that 77% of all independents say they are happier working on their own than in a traditional job. Part of the flexibility of independent work includes having the option to decline projects that don’t align with your personal values.

If you think the assignment will cause enough discomfort that it would lead to a lack of passion and emotional involvement, you should walk away. Not only would you be compromising your own happiness, but you could also harm the client by not putting 100% of your effort into the work.

4. Overly Difficult Client

The perfect client—the one who never disagrees with you, never makes last-minute changes, and always pays ahead of schedule—is every independent consultant’s dream. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. It’s important to remember that, like you, clients are human and conflicts are bound to arise now and then.

However, there may come a time when all attempts at mediation, resolution, or compromise have failed. If a difficult client is simply more trouble than you feel the account is worth, you may be better off cutting ties and declining future work.

At the end of the day, it is important to put your personal well-being and business needs first. If that means saying no to a project or turning down a work opportunity, it will be better to cut your losses now than get caught in a frustrating and potentially damaging situation down the road.

MBO Partners