I never used to say no.
When you work freelance, you memorize the phrase “No problem!” when asked to tackle something you’ve never done in your life but pays. If you say no to everything outside your comfort zone, you’ll starve. Nor will you grow your skills and client list.
So when an editor suddenly emailed me with a 24-hour turnaround — to profile Bruce Heyman, nominated as the U.S.’s new ambassador to Canada — I said O.K. The money was awful, $600 for 1,200 words. But I figured I could do it within five or six hours, and keep my usual rate of $100+/hour.
But, within two hours of starting work on it, I called the editor, (a former colleague in Canada,) and said: “Nope. Not going to happen. Sorry.”
— I called Goldman Sachs, where Heyman works. I emailed and called several PR people there, using sources shared by a Wall Street reporter who’s a friend of a friend, explaining my urgent deadline. I could tell this was not a priority. The PR woman called me back at 5:00 p.m. that day — a mere eight hours after my initial call.
— The one live person I got at Goldman in PR kept saying “I don’t know him. I just got off a plane from Brazil.” Chill, dude.
— I started Googling Heyman. He likes to drink green tea. That was about the extent of it. Not a good sign.
— I started calling the University of Chicago to reach former White House staffer David Axelrod, since Heyman is a big Obama fundraiser. After five mis-directed calls, I was told that the university has no public relations department (!?). I was told they’ve never heard of him or the policy institute there he is supposed to be heading.
— I started looking at the names of his fellow Chicago-area fundraisers. Billionaires, every one. Would they take a call from some Canadian wire service freelancer? As if.
I weighed the stress and bullshit of chasing all these people all day long — for $600 for a story no one I know in the States would read. Not worth it.
The editor was grateful I let her know right away.
Have you ever ditched a paying gig, and quickly?
How did it turn out?