What’s Your Reputation Worth? Why It’s Okay To Say “I Can’t Do That”…

Know Your Limitations

When I started freelancing and consulting, back when I was young, good-looking, idealistic and proudly rode my Brontosaurus to work, I made the same mistakes as many budding freelancers and consultants –  I accepted work that I really shouldn’t have because I wanted to ensure that next paycheck. Hey, don’t judge me! Do you have any ideas how much it costs to feed a Brontosaurus?

While I certainly delivered on my end and my clients were always happy, it usually meant a steep learning curve for me as I tried to learn new technologies in order to be able to deliver on the promises I made – it also meant a lot of stress and working a lot more hours than needed – hours which came out of my my free time because you can’t charge the client for your lack of knowledge.

Looking back with more than a decades worth of hindsight I find myself wondering what damage would have been done to my reputation had I not been able to deliver, or if clients were unhappy with the finished project?

I find myself wishing that someone had told me (or that I was clever enough to figure out) that it was okay to turn down work that wasn’t within my area of expertise and to use the extra time to expand my skill set. A little extra hunting for contracts in my field, instead of taking every job that came for fear of not getting another one, would have led to a lot less sleepless nights.

Unfortunately for many freelancers and even firms, this habit stays with them long after they’ve graduated beyond Padawan Consultants. It’s a hard habit to break – that paycheck is very tempting when your health insurance is on the line.

We need to accept that doing what is best for the client is ultimately what is best for our business and our reputation. Reputation is all we have.

It’s okay for us to say that we can’t do a job. It’s okay for us admit to potential clients that we don’t know something (Pro-tip – it makes you look smart and confident to acknowledge your own short-comings), and if we refer clients to people who can deliver quality work, the client and those we referred them to are likely to send work our way in the future.

Yes, we’ll have to hustle a little harder to get that paycheck in the short-term, but long-term being honest with yourself and potential clients about our abilities is the best deal for everyone, and will do wonders for your reputation.