1099 is no longer being updated, but please enjoy our archives.


By Janice Brand


Hot Tips




It was the favored slogan of a certain ex-president's wife. It was the futile phrase of your high school sex education teacher. It's the rallying cry of the religious right.

Just say no.

We can't help you with decisions about drugs and sex (not yet) but we do know of ways to turn down work and live to earn again.

There are several reasons why you might want to decline a project, but most often they have to do with time management conflicts. Or some sort of twisted corollary to Murphy's Law: Why do Company A and Company B both call with immense projects on the same day, when you've been sitting idle for three months? It happens, and often there's no way you can manage both jobs. The secret is saying no gracefully and gainfully.

Get Exclusive

Jay White says it's never easy to turn away work. "If you're good," he says, "you get into having to say no eventually. It depends what your threshold of pain is."

White, an IP based in Minneapolis, Minn., has written direct-mail packages for 21 years. He's not only learned to say no, he's figured out how to make himself look good while delivering the bad news. "You tell them you're booked," he says. This gives the impression that your services are in high demand and therefore valuable. "I tell a client I book three to six months in advance, and they go 'holy moley-- he must be good!'"

By stating up front what his planning needs are, White gains respect, if not always jobs. "You do lose [work] when you say no," he says. "It depends on what you want: long-term relationships or one-night stands. Clients understand that."

Even a seasoned pro like White sometimes takes on more than he should, fully aware that "it's no fun." He admits that "the greed factor kicks in. I still get into that situation. I say yes and my wife looks at me like, 'Who are you?' If you take on too much and fail to meet the deadline, you might lose the client."

Get a Network

For Sue Losapio, the IP proprietor of Losapio Training & Consulting, in Hampton, N.H., the secret to turning down work is being able to refer the client to a trusted colleague.

"If I get a call and I'm booked on that day, I refer the client to one of my colleagues who I consider more than capable of taking and honoring the assignment," says Losapio. "These are people in the same business, who work similar to the way I work, use some of the same tools, and have the same base philosophy."

Some IPs might worry that they would lose potential clients forever by referring them to other professionals. What goes around typically comes around, though, especially within a tight and supportive network of colleagues. The client, moreover, will appreciate and remember the service, and will probably mention your helpfulness to friends.

Losapio says that she ends up looking better herself when she makes a good referral. "I got a call from a client who wanted me to do an hour-and-a half presentation for their annual meeting-- a rah-rah type of thing. But I was going to be on vacation that week. So I found out specifically what the client wanted, then I found other people to refer [the client] to. The woman they hired did an awesome job-- and made me look good, too."

Losapio has built up her management and sales training business over the past five years. In the beginning, she didn't exactly have the problem of having to turn down work. The problem then was getting any work at all. "When you're trying to develop what you're really about," she says, "you have to go through that courtship phase."

When Losapio turns away work now, it tends to be from existing clients, who are already comfortable with her work and will want to use her again, even if they have to wait for an opening in her schedule. With new clients, however-- people she has yet to win over and are likely to look elsewhere if she's not immediately available-- "I will find some way to fit them in," she says. New clients tend to call with future requests anyway, she says, not last-minute needs, and are therefore easier to accommodate.

Still, Losapio remains firm about saying no when she has to. If you take on work that you can't handle, she says, "that doesn't help anybody."



If you take on work that you can't handle, that doesn't help anybody


Get a Life

Work-flow management is only part of Just Saying No. The other part has to do with the rest of your life: as in... oh yeah, your family.

John Rossheim, an Internet editorial consultant based in Providence, R. I., deliberately altered his workload to accommodate a newcomer to his family, his daughter Hannah.

For two years, Rossheim worked as an independent contractor on Microsoft's Boston.Sidewalk.com project. He was able to bill for 40-hours a week, but this also meant that he was away from home for 40 hours in addition to the time he spent commuting to Boston from Rhode Island.

"My wife and I adopted Hannah from China in May of 1998," Rossheim says. "I took an unpaid leave from my situation at Sidewalk and we went over for two weeks and picked her up. When I got back I took off another almost two weeks for all of us to get over jet lag and get a system going at home."

Soon after he returned to his 40-hour week at Sidewalk, Rossheim decided that the commute and the long week weren't going to work for him.

"When you're trying to spend time with your family," he says, "it doesn't take too much to feel like you're cutting down on your time with them. You find you're fitting in the time with your family in the cracks between all the other stuff in your life."

Rossheim left Sidewalk, but not before building up a base of clients, including another division of Microsoft. The key when you're leaving to take on something else, he says, is to leave on an upbeat note. "I emphasized how much I valued working with the people at Sidewalk," he says, "and that I would like to be kept in the loop. A lot of this did boil down to coming up with the best arrangement for my whole life."

Jay White agrees. A sign in his office reads: 'Don't worry, you will always find work.'

"I believe that," he says. "You'll get the job. When you turn down work, you don't say, 'I just lost X thousand dollars.' You have to ask yourself, isn't your relationship and your life worth that much?"

August 13, 1999
Edited by Eric Gershon
Illustration by Lawrence San
Production by Keith Gendel

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Janice Brand is a freelance writer who lives in Charlestown, Mass. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with her, or with any of the other IPs named in this article.


Go to top of this page

Entire contents Copyright © 2000 1099 Magazine. All rights reserved.
The 1099 name and logo are trademarks of 1099 Magazine.