When To Say No To That Job

When To Say No To That Job

Do you take on a job that doesn’t feel right just because it is a job, do you have a policy to take any job regardless, do you have standards too high that you limit your own sustainable growth? When do you draw the line?

Firstly, I have to put on my business hat and say that fiscal issues are important if you want to keep afloat and move forward, and that your personal circumstances will have a great influence on your flexibility here. There are times, though, when we need to make a decision when we find ourselves sitting on the fence, something just doesn’t feel right, or we lose direction temporarily and need some kind of barometer to help steer us in the pressure of the moment. My experience is that there are some fundamentals we can consider to help guide us through.

Culture match

Stepping into a higher level than the specific project, script or brief and seeing how the relevant businesses match, culturally, will help you see how the wider process will be during the experience of the job. If the two, or more, businesses are not aligned in some way even if it appears small in the beginning it is likely that this gap will widen when under pressure. If you are passionate about a particular way of thinking or working and the proposed partners differ in fundamental ways, that could cause pain and conflict during the job which will bear heavily on whether to move forward in partnership or not.
Culture is about the higher level of thinking and operating – what do all parties believe in? Do you have the same kind of personality and compatible creative styles? Much like when choosing a partner in our personal lives, our business relationships are much the same.

Business culture often comes from the head of the company and if the personality, style and manner of management is different to yours it can be both complimentary and clashing. It helps to be able to identify both.

A business has a personality much like humans do, in my experience. Sometimes it is a result of the leadership and other times it is because of designed culture and processes that have been put firmly in place, consciously, by management at some point in the business’ lifetime. That may be to match a certain client base that they are targeting rather than be a reflection of the people involved – all the same it can be expressed similarly.

Some personality types are more compatible than others. From this chart below see if you can match your own personality style and that of your client and/or suppliers and see just how compatible you are likely to be. People tend to fall into four main types, with varying degrees of each and depending on the situations – Demanding Adventurer, Charming Influencer, Steady Friend, Patient Fact-Finder. Some are more cerebral, in that they tend to be more in their head, deep thinking, more about facts and data than how it feels. Others are more emotional, more about how it feels and connections. Some are super-detailed in their thinking and others are more global or big picture. It is more difficult for those that are diagonally positioned on the chart to be compatible.


• We are most compatible with like-minded types

• Least compatible are diagonally opposing types

• Compatibility – least to most 1. Patient Fact-Finder, 2. Demanding Adventurer, 3. Steady Friend and then 4. Charming Influencer

• All personality types are perfectly fine!

• We all have a little of each in all of us and can dial it up and down depending on the situatio

For example the Patient Fact-Finder will see the Charming Influencer as fluffy, lose, inconsistent, non-linear, and they think they talk too much. Additionally the Charming Influencer will see the Patient Fact-Finder as too uptight, anal, fact and data oriented, stuck on linear process without purpose, very cold, hard nosed, fault-finding, too negative, slow to decide, and critical.

Likewise the Demanding Adventurer will be thinking that the Steady Friend is too slow, too soft and not clear about what they’re really thinking, they’ll be dancing around the bush to avoid offending anyone, they’ll be casual and focused on the people or the community and the relationships, more so than the process. They can be very linear in their thinking too – one step at a time. The Steady Friend on the other hand will think that the Demanding Adventurer is too aggressive, too fast, multi-tasking, too radical in thinking, very analytical and results driven, possibly a little cold and short mannered, and very strong-willed.

The challenge in all this is to understand that all types are completely fine! It is important to recognise when the differences are at play though, and choose to work with the limitations with more education about managing and respecting each other or choosing to use a more compatible team.

If you are a Charming Influencer and you need a book-keeper who is likely to be a Patient Fact-Finder, then be happy for that! They’re perfect for you. In a creative partner a Charming Influencer or Demanding Adventurer could be ground breaking and highly creative.

I recently had a situation where I was with a potential supplier for a project and they spent a lot of the time discussing what was wrong with the brief, the budget, the process, all the problems they could find – to them, it was a near impossible task. Others in the mix jumped at the opportunity to be creative, to take the challenge on, to innovate, to be fresh, to come up with solutions that made everyone happy and to be flexible in their process to accommodate a new way of thinking. Culturally, the first was not aligned with the rest of the team, and wasn’t a good fit.

Culture is not just about personality type, although for today this is a good starting point. Recently, I had a situation looking for a digital supplier to help work on a female-friendly account and the business owner dropped a number of sexist comments during the discussion. Of course he probably had no clue (clueless!) and it was obvious to me he was not culturally aligned – or wouldn’t be right without some work on managing him.

Size and scale match

Choosing business relationships based on size and scale is often important. If they are not compatible, the sheer volume of the load will cause conflict and the whole process break down. There are many smaller businesses that think it is simple to just add freelancers to their mix but they are not really set up to cope with this structure and don’t have adequate people in place to manage the quality of work, the added workload nor to handle the administration required. Simply tacking on external contractors isn’t always done with the best interest of the client’s business and the infrastructure doesn’t allow for true management of the workflow.

Often smaller businesses think that because they have worked on large businesses before they are a perfect match to a large client now they are independent, but the truth is their infrastructure can’t handle it and clients wouldn’t consider them a comparable product. An honest look at your own capacity is important here when deciding to go for the job or not, and what resources you commit to the process of wooing that client.

Process match

Look hard at the way you work and the way that your clients will expect you to work. Are they compatible? Sometimes client processes may be very tight and long winded due to some established protocols (considered essential in certain businesses) but they make the way you need to service the job too costly, too difficult, or hindering your proven methodology for achieving a creative result. This doesn’t mean one or the other is right or wrong here – just they are not compatible.

I’ve noticed creative businesses that are used to working with freelancers and booking them on a full day rate over a series of consecutive days for example. Businesses like this are not well suited to working on jobs with stop-start approval processes or a longer schedule without every day covered in the budget. Either the client is getting chaotic process from the creative supplier, or the creative business is going broke funding changes after work has moved forward unapproved. It may be that the process can be flexible and adjusted to be a better match, but being clear about compatibility is the important thing. A supplier like this, stuck on this process, is best to stick to smaller jobs that works for their established process.

Another example would be a film company set on working a certain way, set on using a certain number of crew each time, using their established crew on any job regardless of the brief, using a certain camera choice or editing facility regardless of the needs of the brief – again, if this is incompatible with the budget or the needs of the brief then there will be nothing but conflict; either open conflict or resentful, silent conflict.

I can tell you one thing – if there are people in either organisation stuck on one process when flexibility is required, it will surely lead to an incompatibility or someone going broke!

Creative standards

It can be less obvious to see when there is a conflict in creative standards between a supplier and a client and depending on the job there are certain aspects that will clash and others that wont. It is important to identify what aspects are conflicting and compatible during the quoting stage or credentials review. Having clear discussions about the aspects that are important – such as cinematography or graphic design, structure of the story-telling, meeting a higher level principle or idea, communicating a certain point, or many others for example. It is a balancing act to leave in or take out what the project needs/doesn’t need. If these are incompatible or unidentified then the job will be rife with conflict.

Time and Effort

It may be that one of the partners has decided that a certain time or effort is going to be contributed and it is incompatible with expectations from another. This can be when established businesses are not hungry for a project, too busy, or it may be the result of established process (see process match above). Time and effort is measurable and tangible as an enthusiasm and a passion for doing the project. Consider how each of the businesses compare with each other and if the balance is in the right direction – is the supplier the more enthusiastic of the two? If that’s you then you may well be well versed to do the job, if not – consider passing.

Pain Factor

We all joke about loading a job according to the amount of pain involved… The truth is that it is a real and tangible cost to a project and needs to be considered to ensure that the effort and time spent on the job is properly recouped in the budget. In other situations the pain affects the ability for that creative magic to flow through a job and onto the final work and sometimes some additional budget is needed to help pick up the pieces lost along the way – either for alternative versions to be demonstrating a point, to allow for additional revisions, to compensate for other areas falling down.

Is the pain threshold compensated for enough in the budget to consider taking on the job?

Folio Worthy

Not all jobs need to be folio worthy and some put this altruistic (and in some ways, admirable) goal ahead of business practicalities. That is noble when you can afford to say no and what the ultimate goals of the business are. For others the ultimate goal is to service the client’s needs and deliver the best you can with what is available. Sometimes the goals are strategic, more so than a specific creative execution. Some people get stuck on what it takes to be folio worthy too! Subjectivity does come into play.

Recently I had a discussion with someone who considered one creative supplier more desirable based on their social circles, and overlooked an equally talented and award winning creative team who were not so socially connected and didn’t boast their awarded history. So, be careful that your judgment is based on fact and not just on appearances.

The real question is whether you’d be proud to say you have created the work at the end of the day – whatever your motivations.

Pros and Cons

A good, old fashioned, technique to decide if a job is right for you or not is to gather up all the points above and put together a fast pros and cons list. Add your own, specific to the project and I trust you’ll feel more certain in your decision.


About the author...

Over 30 Years Advertising Industry experience working with creative people and suppliers.

View all posts by Anne Miles

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