Be true to yourself: limit the scope of your work

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As freelancers and consultants, we sometimes find ourselves being asked to perform roles that are not our core strengths. Too often our initial inclination is to accept these additional responsibilities without a second consideration.

This article will explore what elicits this immediate response and why we would be better served by sometimes turning away additional work from clients when they are not our traditional services.

Your client’s perspective

Why is it that we often find ourselves in the situation of being asked to perform additional services for our clients? It is likely because our client is satisfied with our services and has a high level of trust in our partnership.

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Additionally, they might assume we also perform this seemingly related role. For example, a client might assume that a web developer would also be able to help configure and maintain their email accounts or that a UI/UX designer would be able to help with their marketing video.

Finding, evaluating, and hiring a new consultant is a time consuming and risky process. For that reason, their initial solution is to leverage their established relationships.

Regardless of the reason or reasons for a particular situation, try to understand why you have been approached with a particular request. That is the first step in evaluating, and eventually responding to that request.

Why we want to say yes

The next step is considering why our initial response is typically, to immediately accept these opportunities. As freelancers, we want to be helpful to our clients, we appreciate the additional work, and we often want to maintain as much control over our projects as possible.

In some scenarios, we might even be fearful that if we decline the work, our client will find another vendor whose services overlap our own. The last thing we want is to enter a situation where we are fighting to defend work that was previously ours.

For these reasons, it might make sense to accept this additional work. However, every time we consider new assignments, we must also consider the very real reasons to decline those opportunities.

Why you should consider saying no

There are numerous reasons why you might want to turn away work that is not your core competency. Excluding things like pay, availability, and timeline, here are things you should consider:

  • Quality of Work – If you are not experienced with a particular service, it is foolish to think you will be able to deliver a quality work product. Moreover, your client will likely notice you are not delivering at the level they expect. This could damage what was once a healthy relationship.
  • Future Growth of Service – Consider if this new service is something you would be able to offer to other clients. If it is not a very marketable service and is unlikely to be something you can offer existing or future clients, it is likely not worth investing the time and effort in.
  • Desire to Perform Role – Remember why you choose to specialize in your current list of services. Hopefully it is because you enjoy those roles and have been able to market them effectively. Ask yourself if, in a vacuum, you would consider taking on this new service. If not, it might not be a good idea to accept in this situation.
  • Effort to Learn New Role – Think about how difficult it was to become an expert in the services you traditionally provide. Do you want to spend the time necessary to become competent in this related field?
  • Client’s Best Interest – As a consultant, you are responsible for honestly guiding your clients. If a similarly priced freelancer would perform significantly better than you would, you are doing them a disservice by not declining this work. In many cases your client will greatly appreciate your honest feedback.

If you consider the above list and have decided that it is in your and your client’s best interest to decline the work, you should begin strategizing how to best turn away the assignment.

How to grow by saying no

In situations where you have decided to decline a client’s request, I would recommend the following approach:

  • Thank them for this opportunity and reiterate how much you enjoy working with them.
  • Explain how this new service is not something you currently offer.
  • If possible, find another vendor who offers this service, who has a solid portfolio, and is not a direct competitor of yours. Reach out to them and see if they would be interested in the work. In many cases, they will pay you a finder’s fee or provide you leads in the future. Assuming you find such a vendor, let your client know why you think they would be a better fit.
  • If you can’t find a vendor, just let your client know that unfortunately you don’t have anyone to recommend for the work but would be happy to help evaluate vendors they find.
  • Close by saying that you wish you could be of more direct help and that you think this will result in the best possible project.

This sort of honest, direct, and helpful communication will help maintain a healthy working relationship and minimize any risks created by this opportunity.

Conclusion

Remember to be honest with your clients (and yourself) in regard to your skills and interests. Be careful not to damage existing client relationships by accepting additional work, and remember that you can benefit by strategically redirecting these opportunities.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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About Paul Francis

Paul Francis is a partner and product manager at The BHW Group an Austin-based mobile app and web app development company. In this role, he has served as the account manager and technical advisor for many of their largest clients. Outside of the office, he enjoys baseball, trivia, podcasts, and arguing about movies.

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