As a small business owner, you shouldn't necessarily say "yes" to every project. Here's how to decide if it's a yay or a nay.
When opportunity comes knocking, our instinct is to instantly and emphatically say YES!! After all, new clients and projects mean more income and who wouldn’t want more money?
However, that instinct to say YES can actually run contrary to your long-term goals and even your best interests. In short, not every project is worth pursuing and not every client is worth working for.
How do you determine which projects to take on? It’s not always straightforward. But to help you make intelligent decisions about the projects you pursue, here are seven questions you should ask yourself before starting any new project.
1. Does the Project Enhance My Portfolio?
There are two ways you can enhance your portfolio: Through association or the type of work.
Enhancement Through Association
Have you ever visited a website that says “As seen in [insert publication]?” Sure you have. There’s a reason why companies include this information: It adds credibility to their product or service, and instantly makes their offer that much more desirable.
So, clients and projects that can give you this social proof may be worth working for. I say “may” because you should still ask yourself the other questions that follow to determine if this “halo effect” is enough to justify your time and energy!
Enhancement by Type of Work
You likely specialize in a service or a range of services. Perhaps you’re a copywriter who writes for a particular industry or provides a specific service (e.g., blog posts or white papers)? Or, maybe you’re a photographer who specializes in wedding photography?
By tackling client work that’s related to your core service you enhance your portfolio and demonstrate you can deliver on that service.
For example, I’m a copywriter and blogging is one of my core services. I regularly pursue projects that add a new content type such as ebooks and long-form content. Not only does this expand my portfolio, but I get relevant testimonials and improve my offering and marketability.
2. Does the Project Allow Me to Grow?
Even if you have a core skill that you’re known for, you may want to broaden your services to grow (especially if those new services are well-paid).
If, for example, you’re an interior decorator you may want to expand into house-staging services. Or if you’re a copywriter, you could choose to help with promotion on social media.
The point is: Focusing on a core service when you start out is a great way to build your reputation. But, in the long run, it can cause your skill set to become stale, and you may even get bored.
So, it pays to look for new clients that can help you with this growth. That’s what I did in my own business after I got tired of only churning out blog post after blog post with one client.
Through cold emailing I found a client that helped me learn all about lower, middle and top-of-the-funnel blog posts. I was also able to work on a greater diversity of projects including ebook and guests posts.
How did I manage this? I gauged whether there were opportunities to grow before I started working with them. I asked questions about what their content needs were beyond blogging and I let them know that I’m available to work on other projects too.
I follow this approach will all new clients. And, sure, I usually always feel nervous about new projects, especially those that aren’t my core service. But, I channel that nervousness positively to create work my clients love.
What I’ve invariably found is that new projects are never as daunting as they first seem. It’s just me getting out of my comfort zone.
3. Will I Be Able to Charge What I’m Worth?
Many business owners make the mistake of jumping all over new projects without truly understanding how much time it will take them to complete it.
I’ve seen this time and time again in the freelance writing world. Writers agree to a fixed price per blog post, thinking that it’s only for writing. They later discover that the client also wants them to optimize posts, source images, and upload the document to WordPress. A project they thought would take only a few hours, now takes way longer.
So, get clear on how much time you’ll spend on the project by defining the scope of work. And this doesn’t have to be a detailed scope of work; you just want to know what the client expects of you so you estimate your time. To get this information simply ask and engage in a conversation.
Then, once you understand what the work entails, ask yourself: Is the money I’m getting worth the time?
4. Is There Long-Term Potential?
Have you ever convinced yourself that a project would pay-off in epic ways down the line, only to find that it didn’t?
Many small business owners undersell themselves just to get a foot in the door. They agree to work at a reduced rate (and in some cases even for free) especially if it’s their dream client.
They picture all the prestige they’ll get from that relationship and all the work that will roll in. And, when this doesn’t happen, they’re left scratching their head.
It doesn’t matter how reputable you believe the client to be; you should always evaluate the long-term potential of a project:
- Is there potential for more work?
- Is this a one-off or will there be recurring projects?
- If this is a one-off, will it benefit me?
One-offs can benefit you when you’re starting your business and need social proof. But constantly relying on them means you’ll always have to hustle for new business which can cause cash flow problems.
So, it’s wise to get a few anchor clients who can guarantee you a certain amount of income each month. Make sure you also balance those anchor clients with exciting new opportunities that push you out your comfort zone.
5. What Is My Current Availability?
When deciding to take on any new project, you should also compare it to your current workload. If you’re already fully-booked, any new projects can have a negative impact on your work: You may miss deadlines and your quality may decrease.
That’s not to mention that it can create more stress particularly when you’re overbooked.
There’s no doubt that working for yourself can be fun and not to mention challenging. But don’t add unwanted stress to the mix. Sure, if you’re happy to work those extra hours, go for it, but be careful of burn out.
6. What Is My Gut Telling Me?
Have you ever felt:
- Uncomfortable promoting a specific brand (maybe you don’t believe in the brand, or their values clash with yours)?
- Apprehensive about the type of work the client wants you to do (you may feel it’s unethical)?
- Uneasy when talking to a specific client (you can’t quite put your finger on it, but something doesn’t feel right?
This is your gut talking. Everyone will have different gut feelings, but it’s important that you tune into your gut when tackling any new project. Your gut is a powerful thing and in my experience rarely wrong. I’ll give you a personal example:
Since starting my business I’ve had several prospects reach out to me asking if I can write an article for them on a high authority website, publish the article under my name, and include a backlink to their site.
This kind of work makes me feel incredibly uneasy because they’re paying me to insert a backlink into an article without the knowledge of the publication. I avoid such work at all cost.
7. Are There Any Red Flags?
There are certain red flags you should look for. These red flags will help you avoid working with clients from hell, many of whom may not even pay you.
Some red flags include clients who:
- Bad mouth previous freelancers when you chat to them. If that’s how they feel about freelancers why should they feel any different about you?
- Insist they can’t pay you well because they’re a startup
- Expect you to work for free because “It’ll be good exposure”
- Insist you do work that goes beyond the scope and classify those changes as only minor
- Say one thing one day and then going back on their word the next
I experienced that last red flag before. The client agreed to a 50% deposit upfront and in subsequent emails changed his story saying that he can’t pay a deposit because they have a small finance department. A client that changes his story at a drop of a hat isn’t worth working for.
It’s often tempting to say yes to every project that comes your way, especially if the money is good. The truth is that not every project is worth pursuing.
Some may turn out to be an absolute nightmare and can cost you a lot more than the monetary value of the project. The clients may turn out to be clients from hell, the time you spend on the project may be more than you budgeted for, or the projects simply doesn’t enhance your portfolio.
But, by asking these 7 questions and being more selective with the projects you undertake you can avoid these situations.
Have you worked on a project that turned out to be a nightmare? What did you do?