I remember a restaurant manager telling me when I was 19 years old, “You don’t choose your career, your career chooses you.” I thought, really, I’m not in control of the job that I choose? Someone else, with possibly self serving interests, will influence my destiny? That comment didn’t sit well with me. Not wanting to be a restaurant manager I continued through school and received my degree in Communication, which at that time was focused on a new discipline within the emerging field of New Media called, “The Internet!” The influences were CD ROM’s at that point, so every website looked like an over illustrated children’s book. Bulky, heavy and slow. Ideas were plentiful during this time and it seemed everyone had some cool new idea that was going to change everything. We had plenty of work, but the budgets were small and the expectations were big. Another trend at that time was people walking in with no money at all, telling you their big idea in exchange for building it and partial ownership. There were a lot of these appointments and it was getting old. We had to get really good at turning down bad work.
We started pre-qualifying people up front over the phone, before we would set up an appointment. “What is your budget?” We would ask. “It depends on if we get investors.” They would often say. It finally got to the point where we would just tell callers, “If you already have capital to start your project, then we can help you, but if you are looking for investors or a partnership, we cannot help you at this time.” Some people in our office and other colleagues in our building thought we were crazy for turning potential work away. The problem was that it wasn’t good work. It was work that had strings attached and required more work for us up front. Sure, some of these ideas could have been great, but we weren’t in the investing business, we were in the website building business. We needed to make money.
Though a lot of time has passed since the early days of the Internet, many of the reasons for taking work and declining work are still the same. Bad business model, unrealistic expectations (our competitors are ebay, Google and Amazon) or not nice people, are a few examples. The fact is you don’t have to take on any work you don’t want to. Some people may find this shocking. If you work at an agency, that idea may even be impossible. Some companies will take anyones money. In fact when you first start out in web development, you pretty much take on all work, because you don’t know when the next project will come by. I mean, what if it doesn’t? What if I turn down this project and then we don’t get anything else coming through the door? It could be devastating. Even terminal.
In reality, you would actually GET more work. I know that’s hard to believe, but by turning down bad work, you actually get more work. Whether you call it the law of attraction, good luck or just karma, it just happens. Because there isn’t any solid scientific research behind this, many people don’t do this initially. The way people find themseves at this juncture, is by being burned so many times from clients that they notice the person they are talking to is just like that last client that burned them, so they turn down the project. Once the weird feeling of that subsides, developers learn they can also say no to projects that don’t interest them or don’t have a large enough budget. Yes, you can start to tell clients what you charge for websites, before giving them a quote. This actually helps them and you. You know the time and money that it takes you to build a website and the client knows their budget. By telling them up front, you are saving everyone some time. This isn’t rude, this is just the way you have chosen to run your business.
Be prepared for a little push back. It may take a few meetings to know that the project that you are working on doesn’t appeal to you or isn’t what you are interested in learning. I often take projects that have a learning moment for me where I get to try some new ideas that I’ve never tried before or I get to implement some software that’s really cool and good to know. Sometimes it’s a new vertical that I’ve never been exposed to. If these are your criteria too, you have to let the client know as early as possible that you don’t want the work, hopefully after the first call. I’ve had potential clients extremely upset. Told me I wasted their time and barrage me with questions as to why I turned them down. Whatever the reason is, just be polite and nice. There is no reason to tell someone that their dream isn’t a good idea. Plus, it might be a good idea for someone else to implement, just not you.