You’re a freelance writer who hasn’t had work for a few months and ‘the fear’ has started to take hold. Part of you thinks you will never work again, and that the most sensible thing to do is to go out and find a ‘real’ job. Just before you start posting your CV on LinkedIn, an opportunity pops up. YES! Finally, someone is going to hire you. And you know what? It’s pretty good money too. You sign a contract, take a deep breath, and relax.
The only teeny problem is that you wouldn’t normally work on this type of writing project; in fact, if you were really honest with yourself, you would realise that this isn’t, in any way, up your street at all. And even worse, you’re not exactly crazy about the person you’ll be working with. But you push that annoying voice in your head away, and replace it with a series of justifications. Let’s face it, lots of people are stuck in jobs they don’t like or have bosses they can’t stand and they get through it. Besides, the money’s good, so why not just suck it up?
So you start working on the project but a few weeks in, you’re miserable. Your client doesn’t show up to scheduled meetings and when he does, he is remarkably tight-lipped about providing the information you need. Worse still, you have finally admitted to yourself that you have absolutely no interest in the topic you’re supposed to be writing about. Finishing the project seems a total impossibility. You’re trapped.
Except you’re not.
You do have a choice, and sometimes it’s the most sensible one: to walk away. But often it’s the last option us freelancers choose. Why? Fear of losing money, guilt about letting down the client, and feeling we have failed in some way, to name just a few. But all those worries tend to cloud your perspective. What you should be asking yourself is: what will happen if you don’t walk away? Is it likely that the project will get any better? Will the client get less nightmarish? Are you going to be less stressed over the whole thing? If the answers to those questions are ‘no’, then it’s time to call it a day. After all, it’s better to walk away after a few weeks, than months or even years down the line.
How do you walk away?
It may sound trite, but honesty is absolutely the best policy. Make sure you have the conversation in person or over Skype. Do not break the news over email unless you have absolutely have to. Not only is it unprofessional but email is notorious for misinterpretation. Tell your client the reasons why you don’t think this project is for you. Although you might be tempted to have a good rant about how annoying and frustrating he is to work with – don’t. You need to keep all the emotion out of the conversation and keep it as fact-based as possible. Write out a script before you have the discussion so you know exactly what you’re going to say, and anticipate the questions he might ask and have your responses ready.
What about the contract?
Like most freelancers, you and your client will have signed a contract. Check the termination clause and make sure you’re within your rights to walk away. If necessary, seek advice from the brilliant experts at the Society of Authors. Also don’t hesitate by asking other freelancers for advice (you’ll probably find that most freelancers have been through exactly the same thing at least once in their careers). When it comes to the money side of things, most contracts will state that you are entitled to be paid right up until the day you walk away, so although you won’t be paid the full fee, at least you won’t have lost out for the time you have already spent.
Things are never as bad as you think
The fear of walking away is often much stronger than actually doing it. In most cases, the client will appreciate your honesty and hopefully understand the reasons why you need to call time on this particular project. Don’t be afraid to recommend your fellow freelancers who might be more suitable for the job (although only choose those who have the confidence and expertise to deal with tricky personalities!). Afterwards, you may feel you’re back to square one again (no money and no sign of work!) but you’re not. In fact, you have learned a valuable lesson – listen to your instincts, and think twice about taking on a project in times of desperation. Trust me – it never ends well.
It wasn’t your boat
Now that you have walked away from the project, you have more freedom to take on the work you really want. Have faith that something better will come along. It always does. While you may think that you’ve ‘missed the boat’ by not completing the project, this isn’t the case. To paraphrase research professor Brené Brown in her book, Dare to Lead, you haven’t missed the boat – it just wasn’t your boat in the first place.
Emma Murray is a best-selling, award-winning author and ghostwriter, specialising in business, psychology and higher education. She also ghosts blogs, articles, case studies, and book proposals.