I lost about $18,000 this week, and gave myself a whole lot of extra work for which I’ll get paid nothing. And I regret none of it.
I do quality writing and editing work.
I meet deadlines and never break promises.
I suppose I do this to maintain my reputation. But as I think about it, that’s not really why I do it. I do it because it is the kind of freelancer I want to be. I want to be the guy about whom people will say “Wow, he’s good, and he does what he says he will do.”
This desire ran smack into my revenue this week.
I am ghostwriting a book right now, and it is on a tight schedule. I’ve also begun radiation treatments for prostate cancer. The treatments have a likely side effect of fatigue. There is no way to know when that might kick in, or how hard it might hit me.
So, here are three decisions I made this week.
- I canceled a report editing project and gave money back. I’d committed and already gotten paid half of the fee up front (and I had to bug the organization’s accounting department five times to get that). But it’s now clear that it will hit right when my fatigue may start, and it is on a very tight deadline. The client said they would be able to use a different editor if I couldn’t do the work. Since I couldn’t fulfill my promise, I returned the money and cancelled the project. (In eight years of freelancing, this was only the second time I gave money back.)
- I turned down a juicy editing project for which I would have been perfect. A former client whose book I had edited reached out about another book that he needs edited. The timing, again, is during the tail end of treatments. I turned it down, even though it was more than $10,000 I could easily have gotten and probably made the client happy — because I couldn’t be sure I could do it quickly enough.
- I did more work on another editing project without getting paid. I had edited a book — a very time-consuming project. The author had asked for a very specific type of feedback, and looking over my work in good conscience, I had not provided it. She complained, and she was right. So I’m going to do another pass on the manuscript this week and get her what she asked for.
The macho choice
I have to admit, there is a part of me that remembers being the macho guy who would commit to do the impossible and then somehow, just by force of will, talent, and muscling through, always find a way to deliver. That was the work ethos I learned throughout my career.
I was certainly tempted to make these commitments and figure out some way to complete the work regardless of any side effects.
But there is a risk of letting my clients down. And of course, a risk of overworking myself when my body really needs to recover, too.
I could use the money. But I hate to let people down. There will be other jobs, but I only have one reputation, and I only have one sense of integrity. I’m not willing to put either at risk.
Have you ever given people money back, or turned down work for reasons for like this? If you were me, what would you have done?