It’s time for me to come clean about my biggest problem as a freelancer – saying “no”. I confess that I am terrible at it. I have a lot of energy and I manage to get many things done, and that combined with my desire to please makes me accept many of the projects people offer me, no matter how much else I have going on in my life. When a customer contacts me about a job that I know I have the skills for, I tend to just say “yes,” even if I know I have many other things to do or if I have planned to take a day off.
Some other freelancers I’ve spoken to have mentioned that they have a similar problem. After all, since most of us freelancers support ourselves with the income we bring in from our work and since we never know if assignments might stop coming in, we tend to take on jobs when they are offered. We worry that if we say “no” to a customer now, that person will find another translator and never return to us, and thus we will have lost more than just the one assignment. Friends and relatives of mine who are not freelancers do not understand what it is like to not have a steady paycheck, and these are the people who always say to me, “But it’s so easy to say “no.” Just do it!” I can point out, though, that this concern about having a steady income is in fact what stops many wannabe-translators from achieving their dreams.
I’ve been working on improving this bad habit of mine. On my recent birthday, for example, a customer I’ve done editing for before asked me to edit an entire book within a 24-hour period. Obviously, that was a ridiculous assignment anyway, and I told the company in question that my professional pride would not allow me to accept editing a book so quickly since I knew it was not possible to do a good enough job given the time constraints, but I also reminded myself that I had promised myself a day off for my birthday, and that I had to turn down the job for that reason as well.
The next day, however, I was back to my usual behavior, and I accepted a translation job and an editing job, though I knew I really did not have the time, and that by taking on that work, I was ensuring that I would not have any time for pleasure reading for the next week or so.
The only situations in which I confidently turn down assignments are if I know I do not have the knowledge or qualifications necessary for a particular job or if the potential customer refuses to pay a reasonable fee or in any other way treats me disrespectfully. When it comes to my own priorities, however, they tend to come last.
So, I ask you other freelancers: When do you say “no” to assignments? How do you do it? And have you noticed whether clients you say “no” to in regard to one particular job still ask you to do other work for them?
I know many of us would benefit from saying “no” more often, but somehow my “no”s tend to turn into “yes”es.