LLC012: When to Say Yes to New Opportunities (and When to Say No)

I have a problem with saying yes and trying new things. I don’t do it nearly enough, usually because of a fear of failure and a lack of confidence in myself. But it’s also not wise to say yes to absolutely everything. So where do you draw the line?

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Let me kick this off with a story.

Fiverr.com is a platform to offer micro-sized freelancing services starting at five bucks a piece. A few years ago, a new client contacted me on Fiverr about recording a custom voice over script, and it was relatively exciting because it was for ten whole dollars rather than the usual five. Unfortunately, he messaged me as my wife and I were driving ten hours away from my studio to my parents’ house for the Christmas weekend. I explained the situation to him, sure that he was going to find someone else to record his script, but he actually said he was fine with waiting until I was back in town and could record. Great!

Dylan Kraayenbrink over-dramatically illustrating what he looks like when he records in the studio
Gettin’ voice over work done! Thanks to my coworker Janelle Ruppert for taking the photo!

I sent him a custom offer and got the gig set up so that I could record the Friday after we returned from our trip. It was a good script, pretty easy to record, only took a little while to do. The individual lines did have to be chopped up a bit, but they turned out nicely and I sent them back to the client.

But then he asked if I could edit his resume as well! That’s quite a bit of a departure from recording voice over. But he said he liked my work and he could use some help with his English resume, since he isn’t a native English speaker.

I’ve never worked with a resume other than my own and my wife’s before, but I’ve always done well at writing and editing in my English classes in school, so I said I could do it. He sent his resume (which was very interesting and well-rounded) and I made grammatical and word-choice changes as I saw appropriate.

It was a relatively easy extra gig that came unexpectedly, and by being flexible and open to using skills other than what I had advertised, I was able to make a little more money than what I had expected.

An untidy pile of one US dollar bills
*Cha-ching! Quietly though, because it was just a little extra.*

How can I take advantage of new opportunities?

The point of that is, are you keeping an eye out for new opportunities as well? Ways that you can expand your creativity or your business, if you’re freelancing? One of the strongest pieces of advice I got from my music professor in college was to say yes to everything and then figure out how to do it if you didn’t know how already. I say “strongest” and not “best” because I have a few thoughts on when to say no that I’ll get to in a second.

One of my personal problems that maybe you experience as well is being afraid of new opportunities because you don’t know if you’re skilled enough or smart enough to take advantage of them. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to edit that guy’s resume because of my own lack of experience, but I still said yes and was able to help him.

Say Yes While Scared

Another example of saying yes for me while scared – or at least not 100% confident – was to agree to photograph several community events in Grand Rapids. I’m a part of several photography Facebook groups, and one day someone posted asking any members with event photography experience to message her about some events she was organizing. I’ve covered a few fundraising dinners for my day job, so I sent her a message. Turns out, she’s the community ambassador for an online business reviews website for the Grand Rapids area, and she is putting together events to showcase local businesses.

Grand Rapids, Michigan. Home to some fantastic sunrises. (Photo credit: me!)

Despite having done a little bit of event photography before, I’m still not completely sure I can do the job, but I said yes to doing it because I want to get better, gain experience, and build a portfolio for more gigs like this. I speak in the present tense right now because as of this writing, the first of these events haven’t happened yet, so we’ll see how it goes!

So saying yes to new opportunities can lead to learning more, finding new ways to be creative and helping others, and earning more money, if you’re freelancing. Earlier I talked about the advice to always say yes was “strong” advice but not the best. I say strong because he wanted me to take every opportunity, but that’s not always wise. When is it right to say no to an opportunity?

When should I say no?

One circumstance to say no in is if you’re already over-committed and way too busy to take anything else on. This can be hard because you can feel like you’re missing out on something good and you might actually be hurting yourself and losing future opportunities. It’s this feeling that’s led you to being over-committed in the first place and if you keep following it, you’ll spiral out into a burnt-out mess.

I do enjoy an over-dramatized stock photo every once in a while.

Another time to say no is when you know you’re just being taken advantage of. This is especially a curse of younger creatives, because we’re told, “It’s great exposure for you! It’ll build your portfolio and so many people will find you!” In some cases, that’s true. Sometimes you should do work for free to get your name out there. But you’ll be asked to do things “for exposure” much more than you should actually do it. I’m still trying to balance the fine line and judge when I should insist on being paid and when I can suck it up and just do it.

Finally, say no to an opportunity when you know it’s not going to be a good fit. Sometimes you can really feel when the potential client or collaborator is giving you the heebeejeebees and you really don’t want to work with them. Or they could come off as a great person at first, but when you actually start working together, they turn into Godzilla. In this case, it’s good to develop some people skills and getting a sense of who a person is before you commit to helping them. Or if you’re already committed, do the work you promised to do and bow out of future work with them as gracefully as possible.

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