The Career Building Power of “No”

I was chatting with some friends this week, and we got on the topic of how hard it can be to fire clients.

I mean, they’re giving you their money, and you obviously want to keep a strong freelance following and your good reputation.

Here’s the thing. Keeping a client who is a holy nightmare to work with is counter productive on soooo many levels.

Give yourself full permission to fire terrible clients, guilt free.

If you’re considering firing them, one or more of the following are probably true:

#1 They suck as human beings.

#2 They’re taking advantage of you by trying to make you feel guilty about your fees/the amount of time it takes to finish their project.

#3 They’re the actual worst at communicating, which means you’re wasting time you could be working on other projects waiting for them to respond/wrestling decisions from them.

#4 They’re paying you late/refusing to pay for something you’ve already completed.

#5 You’re just not vibing, and it’s frustrating both you and the client in a big way.

Toxic clients are detrimental to ALL of your design work—not just the work you’re doing for that one client.

If any of these issues are occurring, give yourself 1000% permission to fire them, guilt free. Why? The stress they’re adding to your life is taking away from the other awesome clients you’re working with. They’re negatively affecting the quality of ALL of your work, not just the work you’re doing for them.

Keeping a toxic client will not have a positive impact on your career.

Choosing to keep a toxic client around to “keep your good name” isn’t going to have that effect. The rest of your work back sliding is going to damage your reputation, and there’s a high chance that they’re not going to recommend you to their peers anyway after the fact.

It’s always ok to respectfully fire awful clients.

When firing a client needs to happen, don’t just tell them to take a long leap off a short pier — have an open and honest conversation about your concerns.

Sometimes that conversation on it’s own will resolve the issues you’re encountering. If it doesn’t, tell them that you’re sorry, but they’ll need to find a designer who will better fit their needs for the remainder of the project and issue a refund for any project work you haven’t completed yet. That way you’re not “blaming them” for the issue, and you’re not saying you refuse to work with jerks. You’re just peacefully parting ways.

Fear of bad press isn’t worth destroying your sanity and your career.

Even if they rage out and try to blast your reputation afterward, there is a good chance that others in the industry will already be aware of how awful they are to work with. And if people aren’t aware, they will be when they see the client publicly blasting someone. Consider it a public service if that happens. Other designers will know to steer clear. The benefit of removing the negativity from your life is worth the gamble regardless.

Sometimes you can finish the current project and just gracefully decline additional work with the tried and true, “I apologize, but I won’t be able to take on this new project.” You don’t have to make up excuses, you don’t have to lie about a huge workload (especially since you’ll be looking for additional work), it’s ok to just say no.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to pay your bills. And you’ll always have clients that are difficult, it’s just part of being a freelancer.

But you need to know where you draw the line between difficult and toxic (and that line will be different for every freelancer). ID that line and stick to it. Saying “no” and firing awful clients will save both your sanity and the quality of your work (and your career) long term.

Does your job fuel your creative energy?

You know what I love about my job as a Content Strategist and UX Editor for our Product Design and Innovation team? Everything.

One of my favorite aspects is definitely working with a team of incredibly creative, innovative people. We have photographers, print makers, font addicts, nature lovers, writers, painters, craft makers, house flippers, code dreamers, you name it. It’s an eclectic group of people who all bring their own perspective and spin to our products.

One of the coolest things about working with such an incredible group of folks, is that the creativity is almost palpable. You can feel it humming around the team when we’re  in the office. We work extremely hard, but in the downtime during coffee breaks we chat about our latest creative hobbies, share pictures of pieces we’ve done, sneak previews of things that are in progress, and it’s just generally an incredibly creative atmosphere.

After a particularly inspiring day at the office (our next project is completely awesome, can’t wait for launch!!!) I  had one of those nights, where I experienced the spine tingling creative compulsion make something beautiful. Ever get that feeling, that if you don’t create something beautiful immediately, you’re going to explode?

I picked up a camera and started shooting things (fall foliage, trees, the crescent moon) and spent the evening editing.  When I was done, and had a few pieces I loved, I realized that I had been attacked by a fit of creative energy that stemmed from working in a job that FUELS my creativity, rather than a job that detracts from it. I get to spend my days thinking of new innovative ways to do things, and the job is actually multiplying my creative energy exponentially. Add to that the fact that spending time with the awesome team of people I work with is like being perpetually wrapped in a cloud of creative innovation,  and you’ve got a definite win.

When you get home from work, are you energized? Are you inspired? Do you have those fits of creativity that crawl through your spine demanding that you create something amazing?

If you’re drained, exhausted, mentally fried, or creatively sapped when you get home, there’s a good chance that you’re in the wrong field, or in a toxic work environment.

Free yourself and find a position and team that inspire and fuel your creativity! Then you’ll never “work” another day in your life. You’ll just spend your days doing something you love with “your people” while making bank! Life doesn’t get much better than that.