Turning down business can be painful, but sometimes it’s the only way forward.
I’ve recently had to turn down some business myself. I took on a project which didn’t quite feel right, and the deeper I got into it, the more I realized it just wasn’t the right project for me. Which really sucked because I personally like the client.
Here’s lists of positives and negatives for taking on a project. For each item in both lists, assign a weight, then total the weights and compare the results from each list.
Positives for working on project
- Learning more about BlueprintCSS better, along with Compass and SASS. These are tools I’ve already started learning.
- Digging deeper into jQuery. Again, something I’m doing anyway.
- Would result in technical and business blog posts for future publication, such as this one.
- Gain experience in UX design, an increasingly necessary skill for all software developers. The conundrum faced by backend developers, that is, any developer whose work doesn’t face the customer, is that you’re invisible. When a recruiter asks “What have you done, lately?” she wants to point and click to see the web application you designed.
For each of these positive items, I like to determine where in my story each item fits. Given I have to learn this technology, which parts should I learn best? How can I leverage the parts I do learn to help me produce my own products? How can I use this knowledge to further my own career?
Without that fit, there has to be a LOT of money involved. Enough to purchase my full attention (expensive).
Negatives for working on project
- Having to put most of my other projects on hold, including product development.
- The money was not that good for a consulting rate. In fact, the rate was low enough that I suspect it would damage my credibility if I listed it. So don’t ask. As a salaried rate, it might have been acceptable given a multi-month commitment by the employer.
- Java. Further work in Java is basically going backwards for me. It’s almost, but not quite, a waste of time. Despite the fact I’ve written a fair bit of Java in the distant past, I don’t now want to be known as a Java consultant.
- Ant/Maven build system. The Horror. Ant/Maven builds are boring, hard to set up and take a long time to run. Also, I was once billed $145 per hour by a sub who must have been teaching himself Maven at my, or rather, my client’s expense. A deadline or two was missed along the way, further dinging my credibility with that client.
- The principal has not been able to generate a decent elevator pitch. I’m still not exactly clear on how the application benefits user more than, say, just setting up a blog or using somewhat different technology to accomplish a similar purpose. Recall Evite? See how Facebook Events stomped down Evite? That sort of thing.
- The product isn’t used internally to the principal’s startup, and it’s not useful to me personally. No dog food being consumed here.
How to interpret the results
When the outcome is pre-ordained, that is, once one factor trumps (money, of course), this exercise is still useful if you back-calculate the *actual* weights you implicitly assigned to get to your decision.
That is, reassign the weights for each item to get the result you ended up with. Now you can use these results for your next decision. You will make a better decision in the future. The weights may change, but that’s ok too. The importance is having the process.
Initially, I felt I was going to take this work pretty much no matter what, even with reservations. The driver was emotional: money is a little tighter than I feel comfortable with.
The final criterion
In the end, once I had the chance to get some perspective on the matter, and more importantly, dig deeper into the code, I realized my gut feeling was correct: this isn’t the right project for me. There would be no good come of it. There was no way I would be able to deliver what the client either wanted or needed, much less overdeliver at a least a little bit as is my habit.
Much better to have a disappointed and moderately unhappy client now than a highly disappointed and angry client later.
Check out these links for other people’s experience:
- The Work At Home Woman has some definite opinions on turning down business.
- Some super advice from the SEO Chicks on when it pays to turn down business.
- Tech Republic shares 7 reason to turn down business.
- According to Richard Zwicky, turning down business is an art. I’ll agree with that. I want my friends and colleagues to succeed, and I’d like to help… but that’s far easier said than done.
- The Globe and Mail claims turning down business demonstrates maturity. Not sure I would go that far, but it’s a point to ponder.
Eventually (which means as soon as possible) I’d like to be able to evaluate work before getting to the point of having to decline.
What’s your experience? Have you turned down work? And why? We can all learn from everyone’s experience, please share a comment.