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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

The Secret to Loving Your Freelance Career Is Saying “No”

“no” written on paper

Here’s a question for everyone who works for themselves: How many times have you found yourself using a social network or a marketing technique or pitching your mailing list in a way that feels kind of icky or wrong?

Ickiness feeling aside, you force yourself to do it—but only because you think you have to do it in order to achieve your business goals.

Here’s the thing, though: You have the choice to say yes. You also have the choice to say no if it doesn’t serve your goals.

What does this mean?

  • You don’t have to attend that networking event or conference—even if you think your whole industry will be in attendance.
  • You don’t have to accept every project that comes your way. Especially if it’s a client who doesn’t seem like a good fit. Or worse, seems like he or she would be awful.
  • You don’t have to take interviews or calls if you’d rather be in a heads-down work mode.
  • You don’t have to use a social network just because other people use it.

Now, before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about choice versus responsibility. Sometimes we don’t have the choice to stop doing something we don’t like. Rent needs to be paid, food needs to be eaten—and often there are people depending on us. So, we have to drum up meh gigs, or work with difficult clients, or do another completely undesirable job that we’d honestly rather not do.

Choice is what we’re talking about now. Specifically, having two options, and picking one over the other simply because someone else told you that’s the way that it is.

I can’t stand public speaking, and my brand is built on selling books and teaching others (so, as you can guess, in my industry, public speaking is the goal for most people). However, I decline—politely, because I’m Canadian—one to two speaking gigs a week. I never felt the need to join Facebook, even though I’m often told how good it is to drive business. I rarely write hard sales pitches to my mailing list, even though I know “the money’s in the list.” Regardless of income, fame, or whatever metric of success a person might be after, I’ve learned that since it’s my life and my business, it’s got to be on my terms.

All of this isn’t to say that I’ve been successful without promoting myself. Rather it’s to say that there’s more than one way to get the job done. A benefit of working for yourself is that you can find your own way of doing something. Even if everyone else is doing it another way.

Want an example?

Marketing research shows that mailing list welcome messages have higher-than-usual open rates. So, a lot of marketers use them to sell their product to people. Instead, I use my welcome message to tell a funny story about getting the new subscriber’s name tattooed on my arm—which is much more my style. This move bonds the reader (in ink, ha ha) to me and actually makes them much more likely to buy from me in a future email. Because that kind of email fits my hilarious personality, I get more positive replies from that than I would from the standard pitch email.

Since you’re the boss, you’re the only person to blame if you’re unhappy with how your business is running. You can be intentional about what you do, and more importantly, what you don’t do. I figured out the hard way, after years of trying to follow the rules of business, that if something didn’t serve me, I’d end up resenting it.

Too often, well-meaning experts give us all advice on what we should do and how we should do it—all in the name of getting ahead. Advice is great when you need to learn a new skill for the first time, but the problem is when it comes to running a business, or marketing, or dealing with clients, there are endless ways of going about it.

So, it’s not enough to be blindly led by the advice and best practices of those who’ve made it in your field. There needs to be a further step taken where you ask yourself some tough questions:

  • Do I truly care about this?
  • Does this conflict with my values, personality, or style?
  • Will this make me happy and keep me excited?
  • Is this something I need in my life right now?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • If someone hadn’t given me this advice, is this how I would do it?

Now, if you feel scared or unsure about doing something, don’t just take it off your list and say, “Paul said I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.” Instead, take a moment to consider why that is. If it’s a fear of trying something new or something that could push your limits—that’s a bad reason to not try something. (Typically it’s those things that lead to the most growth.) But if the reason is simply a lack of interest, or that it doesn’t align with your values, or that it won’t further your goals in any way, then you can just say no.

Take control of how you work, so you can enjoy it more. After all, working for yourself isn’t just about the money and success. It’s also about having the ability to craft a life for yourself that you love. Because when you’re your own boss, you don’t just get to pick what you want to do, you also get to take control of how you do it. So take advantage and learn that there’s always a choice.