If You’re Not Turning Down Work You Don’t Have A Brand

When I was looking for a job years ago, a friend gave me this advice: “Your goal is to get the job. Then you can decide whether you want it or not.”

That never quite felt right to me—why should I try to convince someone to hire me when I was certain I didn’t want the job? Especially when I genuinely liked and respected the team doing the interviewing. It felt like a con job and I just couldn’t do it.

Turns out that inability to fake it came in handy when I started my first company. And my second. And my third.

Saying “no, thank you” has saved my reputation, my brand and my sanity on more than one occasion.

Like the hard-charging CEO who just didn’t feel quite kosher. Couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was off. He was later charged with embezzling and carted off to jail.

Thankfully, he was not the norm (although a few of the certifiably insane have crossed my path). More often I said no because I just couldn’t see how to get the client what they wanted.

He wanted to zig and I thought zagging was a better strategy.

She thought her project should cost x and I knew it would cost 5x.

He was a hand-wringer, agonizing over every decision in minute detail (I work better with those pre-disposed to action).

She needed immediate attention and I was too busy to do the job she needed (oh, that hurts when you know they’d be the perfect client, but it’s ALWAYS the right thing to do).

Saying “no, but thank you” is liberating.

It says you have worth, that your time is valuable and you’re saving it for those who will truly benefit from it.

It says you hold yourself to a standard.

It says your future clients can count on you to do the right thing.

Because the minute you start telling yourself you HAVE to do the wrong work with the wrong client or the wrong budget, you’ve started selling out.

You’re diluting what makes you incredible.

You’re convincing yourself you’re unworthy of more.

Slippery slope.

So the next time the little hairs on your neck are standing up, just say “no, thank you”.

Your integrity, sanity and future bank account will thank you.

And you’ll be building your brand instead of dismantling it.

p.s. Like what you see here? Head on up to that orange bar to sign up pronto and I’ll deliver my weekly insights directly to your in-box.


  • Very interesting post. I agree with the message. There may be times that you may not know a coveted job may not be until you go through the process, and, only through a discovery process that comes with through interviews and the like can you make that finding.

  • What great advice. Too bad it is one crazy client too late. LOL. But failure is always a learning lesson and this client was in need of a therapist not a business consultant…which i suggested in his preliminary report. Still I am sure he will feel he wasted his money.
    I agree I should have listened to my radar because it has certainly helped me help those clients who were a perfect fit. And their success is what makes all the effort worth it!

    Thanks as always,

  • During my first decade or so as a legal recruiter, all deals were done on handshakes. However, I once felt a client was a snake and had him sign my fee agreement, which included a provision that if the client does not pay on schedule, my refund policy is void. I only sent this small law firm people who needed work. (It was during the deep recession of the early 1990’s. Many excellent lawyers were out of work.) My client hired someone through me, paid two weeks late (after two timely telephone reminders), and fired that person three days before my normal guaranty period ran. Really. He wanted a full refund, but I had his signature to say not happening.
    Unfortunately the lawyer lost his job, but had nearly six months of employment. I had told that young lawyer I had a feeling the firm was less than upstanding, but he needed a job, and was not asked to do anything wrong while he was there.

  • Very interesting piece. And so true. I am one of those many people who have a problem turning down work. But I, like you, learned it is better to say no than to take on a project that is better left for someone else.

  • Hi Rochelle,

    For many business owners it is so tempting to take the business even though their instincts are telling them not to.

    I can remember a few years ago when I owned a web development company I had an opportunity for a $200,000 website. The idea they had was sound and the project was really interesting.

    As I was asking questions it dawned on me that something was seriously wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I just knew it.

    I said no to the opportunity and moved on. Two weeks later I learned that the authorities were investigating the company for a host of reasons. I’m so glad I didn’t get caught up in all of that mess.

    Our brands are delicate and important and aligning with the wrong client can jeopardize our businesses if we are not careful. I have had a few that slipped the cracks, but all in all I have a sound process for identifying consulting and coaching clients who are serious and a good fit for me.

    I think we sometimes forget that we are evaluating are prospective clients as much as they are us. It has to be a great fit both ways.

    I really enjoyed your post Rochelle. You recently connected with me on Twitter and I enjoy checking out the blogs of those who do so. I like what I see on your site so I’ll definitely be back.

    Have a great end to your week!

    ~ Don Purdum

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.