A bad economy is no excuse for jumping at bad prospects

Even in this economy – where just the idea of a new client makes your heart race with anticipation – it’s important to recognize red flags that tell you to proceed with caution and to walk away if necessary.  

Such was the case for me last week. I got this e-mail, yet it wasn’t even from the prospect. It was from a “representative” of the prospect. Without even telling me this mystery person’s name – much less anything else – this representative promised a ton of work (brochures, e-newsletters, Web articles, you name it,) if I simply emailed back the following: my hourly rates and (get this) not only samples of my work, but first drafts of those same samples. 

To me, neither of these requests were acceptable. I’m used to the first one. Especially this year – with everybody being understandably cost-conscious – I get the hourly rate request a lot. But even now, my answer remains the same: I must know about your project before I can give an estimate. If I took my car to a mechanic, I’d expect that mechanic to have a good look under the hood before we could seriously talk about price. Why should it be so different when it comes to writing (or design)?

But the second request was new to me. Most writers or designers know that there are often good reasons why a first draft looks quite a bit different from a finished product (like healthy collaboration, new ideas, changes in project direction, etc.) But this “mystery prospect” wanted only to see “how much editing” I needed. If the final product was different from the first draft, well that must have been because I screwed up. 

I was expected to just jump at this “incredible opportunity” (the rep’s words, not mine) without asking questions. There wasn’t even a phone number I could use to call for more info. 

So what did I do? (Click on the link below to find out.)

Alan Kravitz is a copywriter/editor whose company, The Infinite Inkwell, helps socially conscious organizations communicate effectively and strategically through the written word. You can email him at alank@infiniteinkwell.com, follow him on LinkedIn, or speak with him at the Creative Freelancer Conference, Aug. 26-28 in San Diego, which he’ll be attending for the second year. 

I e-mailed this representative back, thanking her for her interest, but telling her very directly that I do not work this way. I told her I would be happy to have a no-cost consultation with her client so I could find out plenty of details (including, of course, who the client was) and that I would gladly give an estimate after that consultation. For samples, I simply provided a link to my online portfolio.

Not surprisingly, I got a terse “thank you, we’ll get back to you” response. I don’t expect to get this job, but that’s okay. I just know in my gut that it would not be a good fit.

I wonder, though, how many people would have taken this bait – especially in this economy – just for the sheer prospect of getting work. Like any other solopreneur, I want to be as busy and profitable as possible – but not at the expense of my dignity, or my business sense. Even in times like these, there are cases where it’s best to say “good riddance” and move on. 

Have you had experiences like this? If so, please share them. 



5 thoughts on “A bad economy is no excuse for jumping at bad prospects

  1. Stephanie M. Cockerl

    This is so timely.
    I also had to let go of a prospect because they would not allow me to get a “good look” of the situation. Plus, I also felt in my gut that if I would have gone on and taken the project, that I would of painted myself in a corner I couldn’t escape from.
    Thank you so much for verifying what was in my gut all along.

  2. RK

    Oh, how I feel your pain.
    *You’re paying for my time and expertise. Why not use it, or ask me to tell you about it, instead of questioning my competence?
    *Yes, I do charge a flat fee per page, whether or not I mark up said page. (See time/expertise.) Proofreading is not free.
    *If you want graphic design, hire a graphic designer. If you want a writer, hire a writer. Yes, I can do layout. Yes, I can do some design. No, I am not a professional full-time designer. If you understand the difference between professional and amateur design (which you may not), then you can understand the difference between professional and amateur writing.
    *No, web design is not the same thing as graphic design.
    *No, I don’t throw in all of the above with the writing, nor do I throw in the writing with the other. I charge separate fees for each of these jobs. Those fees very by subtask, extent of job, turnaround time, etc. In this, I am like an attorney, accountant, hair sylist, contractor, etc. You’ve dealt with such people before, I take it?
    *Sorry, but I’m not looking for “a great opportunity to build my clip book.” I haven’t done that since 1984.
    *50% up front, 50% on delivery.
    *”Autobiography” means you write it yourself. Call me when you need a copy editor. (See per-page charges.)

  3. Carole A. Bruno

    When I first started as a freelancer writer and freelance paralegal, I came from desperation, and got into many of these situations. Unlike you, I didn’t trust my gut. After multiple beatings, I learned!
    I am a paralegal author of five books and many articles. Because freelance paralegals incur similar situations, I request permission to post this article on my website and blog that will be up next week.
    Thank you.
    Carole Bruno

  4. Luis Maimoni

    I know I’m guilty of jumping at bad prospects. For one thing, working with a bad prospect can seem easier than finding a real one.
    Ironically, the best case scenario for jumping at a bad prospect is: getting a bad client.
    Thank you for your posting.

  5. R. Halbig

    A continually challenging debacle for certain; I also continue to struggle with whom to accept/reject (or send elsewhere) as clients. I agree wholeheartedly with your response and am riding the same bandwagon.
    A recent, different version I struggled with (and later had to eat crow on)…I am a designer, meet with clients, listen to their challenges, propose conceptual solutions given their needs (“As my clients, you might consider these proposed solutions, then if they want; I will then propose estimates on project-based fees, foregoing hourly fees altogether. Once you sign on agreeing about the estimated fees, 50% up front, 50% at job completion). My client really wanted an employee I later learned. They agreed to a logo, I started and finished their logo, got paid. Packaging, same thing, although a verbal “OK, please start…” They then hired someone (an employee) after I had done 90% of the work and asked me to rush, etc…I was then left with no payment, some hard feelings and the knowledge to be clear, clear, clear and communicate at appropriate levels as the case warrants: high communication: go in person, so-on-and-so-forth down to email just to correspond.
    Signed, lesson-learned in the Midwest