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Why Saying Yes to that High Paying Project can Doom Your Freelance Business

unbalanced stones


When you run a creative freelance business knowing which projects to say yes to, and which ones to say no to, is vital if you want to be successful and avoid burnout.

Now when you’re first starting out as a freelancer, or you’re really struggling to pay your bills, it’s probably hard to imagine saying no to any project. That’s why it’s really important to understand why you would say yes, or no, to a particular project. If you set up your criteria ahead of time you are less likely to say yes to a project that you really should be saying no to.

One of the biggest mistakes many creative freelancers make is to decide whether or not to take on a project without thinking about their overall business balance.

freelancebalanceYour Overall Business Balance

Balancing the types of projects you’re working on at any given time is absolutely key to long term success and preventing creative burnout.

We’ve all heard of, or had, those monster clients who suck you dry for little financial gain. But that’s not what we’re focusing on in this article because monster clients can be handled easily like this:

Either say no outright or ask for enough money so you don’t care what a pain in the ass they are.

Enough said about that. What we’re going to focus on in this article is your long term strategy, your personal system, for knowing when and why to say yes or no to any given project.

Having run my own writing freelance business now for many years I’ve found a simple way to balance projects in a way that helps ensure not only financial success, but also a high happiness quotient and no creative burnout.

The ZenCopy Freelancer’s Balanced Business Model

Creative projects in general have an element from each of these 3 categories:

  1. Payment – high or low
  2. Creativity- exciting or boring
  3. Difficulty  – hard or easy

To determine which projects you should say yes to, and which ones to say no to, we start with a simple red light/green light table:

freelanceprojecttable The idea behind the ZC Balanced Business Model is very straightforward – each project is given either the green light, or red light, or sometimes a yellow light.

First, let’s look at the system from a simple perspective which is tempting to do–

Any project which falls into the green for all 3 categories A, B, and C, is an ideal project so is automatic yes (if schedule permits). For example:

High paying, creatively exciting and easy – who doesn’t want projects like this?

Oops! WARNING! Read on to know why this is also a huge trap for freelancers and over time will lead to burnout

And you might believe that any project which falls into red for all 3 is an automatic no – for example a low paying, boring and hard job.

Again, don’t fall into this trap without considering your overall business balance.

To achieve that long term balance and prevent burnout you have to add 2 more things to the mix:

  1. your current and upcoming projects
  2. and your personality.

Adding your other current projects to the Balance

One of the biggest dangers for creative freelancers is to say yes or no to a project based solely on that project. Let’s say a really exciting high paying project is on your desk along with a creatively boring low paying job. Your knee jerk response is to gleefully send an email agreeing to do the exciting high paying project.

But wait, first consider the other current projects you’re working on or have agreed to work on in the near future.

Suppose you have 2 other high paying creatively exciting projects you’re already working on and they require about 4 hours per day and you have a 6 hour work day. What you should consider is if every project you are working on every day is creatively exciting (a.k.a. pushes your creative growth) your creative well is going to run dry pretty quickly. But if you took the lower paying boring job which you could do in your sleep, you’ll have a little more income coming in than if you said no to both projects and you’re in less danger of burning out.

Pay heed – if you burnout creatively you’ll have trouble doing any of your work and that will jeopardize your entire freelance business.

Bottom line, sometimes boring is good.

Just like in life – none of us want a relationship or job where we have to work our hardest every single moment. We need those down times when we can just “coast” for a bit to replenish ourselves.

Stacked rocks by Peter Juhl

Stacked rocks by Peter Juhl

Adding Your Personality to the Balance

You also need to consider what type of person you are. You need to know is which aspects of each project category are personally important to you right now.

As an example, for me personally, I usually adore having one “hard” project because I love learning new things and having something meaty to sink my teeth into to feel overall satisfaction. If all my projects are in areas I’ve done before so I don’t need to do any research and I can crank the content out quickly, even if the projects themselves are not boring, I get bored. That’s just me. But, when other aspects of my life become very time consuming then the last thing I want is a really challenging project.

There are, in fact, many reasons why you might like a stack of easy not so high paying jobs that you can crank out one after the other:

  • you need to quickly build your resume
  • you might have so many challenges in your life right now that all you want is some boring, menial projects that you could so in your sleep
  • you’ve been working really hard on numerous challenging satisfying projects and you know you need a break
  • you’re freelancing as a side business and are too dang busy for a meaty project right now

You get the idea.

To succeed long term and keep yourself replenished creatively you must consider the balance, the whole picture of you and your business, and not just the project itself when you’re deciding whether to say no or yes to a new project.

About the author: Karen, zencopy creator, is a top 10 bestselling amazon author, creativity coach, and an online content specialist with a masters in psychology and passion for learning and teaching new topics.

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