Yesterday I paid a visit to my local library book sale and I found a copy of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While I don’t have much confidence in being able to detect joy by simply picking an object up, the theme of the book resonates with me right now, so I bought it.

I’ve been going through a process of elimination in all aspects of my life. We’re purging massive amounts of clutter in our house. I’ve eliminated junk food and lost a considerable amount of weight. I’ve also been evaluating the client work I take on through my business and trimming there, too.

Saying No in All the Right Places

I’m going to start this section out with a disclaimer because what I write here may make me sound like a Scrooge. I am accepting new client work, and I do enjoy working with new businesses. I’m not a curmudgeon. I tend to develop strong relationships with the clients that I take on, precisely because I am deliberate about who I work with.

All that said, I do say no to leads a fair amount of time, too. As a freelancer, I sell my most valuable resource: time. That’s something that needs to be highly guarded.

An email lands in my inbox. There’s a lead who originally contacted me last month and then fell silent. Now they’re in a hurry and need a job completed within days. After that, there’s a phone call from a distant acquaintance who wants to get coffee so he can get my opinion on his next project. Next comes an email from a lead for a seemingly good project, but all they want is a free copywriting test completed first.

When I say yes to enough of these types of inquiries, I become busy. Pretty soon I’m stacking up back-to-back phone calls, meetings, and other engagements, and I’m not completing any actual billable work. I’m not leaving enough time in my schedule to complete the billable work that’s already on my plate – so it’s not fair to my current clients.

When you say yes to everything that comes through, you’re no longer in charge of your priorities and the direction of your business. Your inbox and your phone calls are dictating your next action. When you get an email or a call from a lead who would be an ideal client, you may be left with very little time to give to the project. You don’t want to say no there, because of an unpaid priority.

How I Think About My Business

For a lot of us busy equals successful. We tend to stack as many jobs on top of each other as we can, so that we can make more money. But this approach quickly leads to days spent on tasks we don’t want to be doing. It leads to a faster burnout.

I’ve become more selective about the client work I take on, yet my days remain pretty full. I have a great group of clients who value what I do and tend to hire me for repeat work. But that wasn’t an easy situation to create.

I’ve joked with a few colleagues that I curate my business the same way that Jerry Seinfeld curated his love life. In other words, I don’t mind “breaking up” with a girl (client or potential lead) because I don’t like their earlobes.

Let me explain a little further. If there are any red flags in the initial emails, I’ll pass on the work. I’ve had a potential lead brag that he stiffed the last copywriter that he worked with. Thanks, I’ll pass. There have been potential leads who try to set terms that are woefully outside of the boundaries that I set up with my clients. Pass.  

I’ve passed on work for dozens of other reasons, too, big and seemingly small. Would some of those jobs have led to quality work? Possibly. Probably. But I also know that the majority would lead to excess stress and a business that isn’t shaped the way I want it. A majority would likely have led to problems further down the road.

When I am deliberate about who I work with, the result is a fitter, healthier copywriting business.

Trimming Your Business

If your business has taken on a little excess weight, it may be time to do a little trim. After all, whether you sell a product or service, we’re all still selling our time, and that should be worth something. Don’t be afraid to pass on the opportunities that don’t align with the direction of your business.

It will keep you ready for what comes next.