Turning Down Work

I just turned down a job. It doesn’t happen often – I’ve done it maybe four times in 15+ years of consulting – but it’s always an interesting experience.

This one would have been a first-time client. He found me through an online listing and said he was looking for someone to write a white paper for his client. No problem; I’ve written many of them. But as we talked more, it became clear that his client doesn’t need a white paper. He wants “visibility” in a certain sector of the media. You don’t get that by writing something – no matter how brilliant it is – because unless you add some PR into the mix, no one will read your brilliance. So I handed off my potential new client to a former colleague who’s got connections out the wazoo in the industry they’re targeting. Vaja con dios, all.

That was easy – and it felt really good, helping people to make the right connections. The first time I turned down a job, it really hurt. It was in the middle of a recession and I needed the money, badly. But when my client called me up and told me what he wanted, I had to say no. He was surprised – we’d worked together well in the past. But I explained that I couldn’t do this assignment because I didn’t believe it would serve him well. I thought it would do long-term damage to his reputation to speak out on the issue he wanted to address. Fortunately for him, he listened to me and gave up the idea…for a couple of years, at least. He called me back again and I said the same thing. Yes, the money would have been very helpful. But I wouldn’t have been able to look myself in the mirror.