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-   -   Turning down work in order to focus career (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/taking-care-business/437553-turning-down-work-order-focus-career.html)

Jack Kelly September 25th, 2009 07:01 AM

Turning down work in order to focus career
 
The title says it all, really: how do you turn down work without burning any bridges? Either when you're too busy or when the work being offered to you is not something you're interested in doing.

Let me explain:

I'm a freelance filmmaker and most of my projects are one-man-band projects where I film, edit, grade etc. I used to try my hardest to squeeze in every single bit of work that came my way. It was fun for a while but now I need to start finding ways to turn down work for 2 reasons: 1) sometimes I really, truly do not have the time to honour all my commitments. Don't get me wrong, I'm able to work very long hours when I need to but sometimes I'd literally need to be working more than 24 hours a day to get everything done. Not physically possible.

2) The other reason why I have to start turning work down is because I need to take control of my career. Just accepting any work that comes my way has been a fun ride but now I need to start steering my career. In particular, I really need to start concentrating on making films whose content interests me (in my case that broadly means science/engineering/environement documentary films), otherwise I'm going get a little upset doing corporate after corporate. A phrase which I heard somewhere and really sticks in my head is “Only work on something you believe in (life is too short to practice insincerity) “.

But here's the challenge: some of my current clients pretty much rely on me to be available for them. I've become good friends with some of these clients and they seem to like my work. I really don't want to say anything final like “it's been fun working with you but please stop calling me” because I'm all to aware that I may find myself in financial difficulties in the future and I don't want to burn any bridges. I've tried saying “I'm afraid I'm booked for the entirety of the next month” but their response is usually: are you SURE you can't squeeze another 100 hours of work somewhere into your packed schedule and I sometimes give in and accept (I'm weak, I know). Part of me does want to just come out with the honest truth and tell them that I'm getting more and more disparate to get back to doing the type of filmmaking that got me into this career in the first place.

An opportunity to do a series of science films has recently popped up, although there is currently no money involved and it's by no means certain that we'd get funding in the future. When I take a birds' eye view of my career, it feels obvious that I need to clear my schedule for this exciting opportunity to move my career closer to where I want it to be, despite the obvious financial risks (although the risks aren't too frightening because I have a very supportive wife). But on a day-to-day level, I find it very hard to turn down work with clients that I have a strong relationship with.

I suppose another option would be to put my prices up for work which doesn't interest me.

So my main question for the good folks on DVinfo is: what techniques have you come up with for politely turning work down without burning any bridges because you never know when you might need to come crawling back to the client in question in the future?

(Many thanks for reading this long post!)

Shaun Roemich September 25th, 2009 07:14 AM

Jack, to be completely honest I've done what you propose in the nicest possible of terms TWICE, pointing out that I'm giving them as much advance notice as possible because our relationship is important to me blah blah blah...

Clients do what is in their best interest and not yours. If you tell a client to find another service provider, they do. And when you approach them about getting worked back into the fold, I've only gotten lip service ("hey, what's your availability? I'd love to work you in on a few shoots...") and the calls never come. And these are clients that used me nearly exclusively prior to my circumstances getting in the way (I moved once before and I'm gearing up to move again so this is VERY timely for me!) and love my work.

Each case is different and we'd all like to think our clients would choose us over any other but 99% of clients choose themselves and their own business interests. Your "luck" may certainly be different but don't EXPECT the work to still be there when you're "hungry" again, especially if there are talented freelancers available in your locale.

Hope this helps.

Jack Kelly September 25th, 2009 07:18 AM

Excellent reality check, thank you! Definitely food for thought.

Best of luck with your house move.

Shaun Roemich September 25th, 2009 07:19 AM

On the UP side, I've always been able to find wonderful NEW clients but nurturing a new client is a fun and rewarding experience but eats in time that COULD be designated as revenue generating.

And for the record, I agree that one should do what makes one happy instead of that which makes one rich as long as one's basic needs (and those of one's charges are met as well - I have no dependents) are met. Life is short - you can always make more money, you can't make more time.

Shaun Roemich September 25th, 2009 07:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Jack Kelly (Post 1396338)
Best of luck with your house move.

Thank you. Exciting and scary all at the same time. Nothing lined up at the other end but I do have a suitable nest egg to make the jump from the Canadian Prairies to the beautiful West Coast.

Jack Kelly September 25th, 2009 07:22 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich (Post 1396339)
Life is short - you can always make more money, you can't make more time.

Great quote and really gets straight to the point of my original post.

Shaun Roemich September 25th, 2009 08:17 AM

Thanks. To the best of my knowledge, that one is mine and it's how I live my life.

Jason Robinson September 25th, 2009 06:33 PM

That is a tough situation. I would absolutely go for the opportunity for the science film. partly because if that is where you want to be going, then this is a good opportunity to start to move in that direction.

for the existing clients, I think it is entirely reasonable to start saying to them "I'm sorry, I'm simply booked solid" then I would find someone you can recommend with out reservations and get a finders fee / referral fee is possible.

As for bridge burning, I've had to do that with one potentially very lucrative client this summer already. I hated the experience. in my case, it was to preserve a relationship with two other clients who did not like me working with their competition. Ugly situation for sure.

whatever happens, try not to beat yourself up with hindsight. hindsight is always better and able to gnaw at you and cause worry.

Vito DeFilippo September 25th, 2009 07:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich (Post 1396340)
Thank you. Exciting and scary all at the same time. Nothing lined up at the other end but I do have a suitable nest egg to make the jump from the Canadian Prairies to the beautiful West Coast.

Dammit. I was hoping you were coming to Montreal so you could be my guru. Another dream dashed...

Jack, could you keep your existing clients if you hired people to help you? You don't HAVE to be a one-man-band. Hire someone else to do your offline edit, or your colour grading, whatever. Then you can still make money to finance the projects you love.

Kevin McKendree September 25th, 2009 08:59 PM

I had to turn down four clients this year. The biggest reason was the short time notice (less than a week since I work a full time job.) Two of them was for TLC trading places, something like that (I dont watch that channel often) and another was for A&E, and the final one was for a feature film (Year One.) I am kicking myself in the butt for turning down some of those, but I have got to pay my bills.

Jack Kelly September 26th, 2009 01:12 AM

All excellent ideas, thank you. Yeah, I should give some more thought to expanding my business by hiring people - that's a very good idea.

I had a long conversation with my wife last night and we came to a very similar conclusion as this thread: life is too short and it's important to take opportunities when they come along. We also concluded that one of my weaknesses is that I'm quite crap at saying "no" - I need to be more stubborn about pursuing my career aspirations. Sounds cheesy. But it's true.

And I'm coming to the conclusion that I should be completely honest with some of my existing clients (with whom I have a great relationship) and tell them that I've really enjoyed working with them in the past but the time has come to slightly change my career's direction but here are 3 phone numbers for other local filmmakers... etc...

Shaun Roemich September 26th, 2009 10:03 AM

Vito, if I wasn't so set on Vancouver and the Sea to Sky thing, Montreal would be my VERY next choice! And no guruism here, just a kid from the mean streets of North Winnipeg that worked hard and managed to get out alive (and see a bit of the world on someone else's dime...)

And thanks. That made my day!

Vito DeFilippo September 26th, 2009 02:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich (Post 1401030)
And thanks. That made my day!

Thank YOU for all the great advice you impart. I've learned lots and hope to continue. I'm just a lowly event guy trying to get better every day, and it's great to have people like you here.

Best of luck on your move.

Ken Diewert September 26th, 2009 06:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Shaun Roemich (Post 1401030)
Vito, if I wasn't so set on Vancouver and the Sea to Sky thing, Montreal would be my VERY next choice! And no guruism here, just a kid from the mean streets of North Winnipeg that worked hard and managed to get out alive (and see a bit of the world on someone else's dime...)

And thanks. That made my day!

Shaun,

Welcome in advance to the West Coast... I'm sure you'll love it. My wife is from Winnipeg. There should be lots of work for you in Vancouver (though it does seem to be getting a little cutthroat these days judging by the craigslist ads). I used to live over there but moved to Vancouver Island 11 years ago, so I'm only 20 miles away, but it's all water.

Vito, I 've been to Montreal a couple of times and absolutely love it!


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