Should You Work on a Project You Don’t Believe In?

smashed ideaOne of the major benefits of freelancing is freedom. You can choose to work on projects that interest you. Similarly, you can refuse to take on tedious work or projects that are doomed to fail.

Salaried employees rarely have that luxury. They may be able to convey their fears but, unless they can convince their boss, the work will still come their way.

Assuming you’re offered work that is not illegal or immoral, what should you do when faced with a dumb idea? Is it a service that users won’t want? Is the business entering an already-crowded market? Are there serious technical issues? How should you handle an excited client with an idea that simply won’t work?

In the current economic climate, it’s tempting to take any job offer. However, you have a vested interest in all your projects. Clients with successful businesses will return again and recommend your services. At best, a failed business will not provide additional work. At worst, the client could blame you for their woes. You could also take on a task that leads to many painful months of effort only to miss out on better and more lucrative opportunities.

My first recommendation is communication. The client is paying for your services and they will usually listen to your concerns. Ask leading questions to avoid sounding negative and make sure the client has considered their project from all angles.

Remember also to have an open mind and try not to be over-dismissive. Success is not always measured in monetary terms and some of the most unlikely ideas can succeed. Who would have thought that a 140-character web message broadcasting system would attract millions of users? What about a home page showing a 1000×1000 graphic where each pixel is sold for a dollar?

Business prosperity can never be assured. However, you will be more motivated to complete the task if the project interests you and you have a good working relationship with the client.

Do you accept every project? Do you reject more than you take on? How do you judge whether the work is worthwhile?

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  • Anonymous

    I accept projects that I don’t think are a great idea, but I do make my concerns clear. So far, I’ve found this policy works well. I’ve had clients remember that I said that XYZ might not work, and they’ve came back to me for advice, or been more willing to listen to my concerns in the future.

  • Neztra

    In my salaried position, I am not able to reject projects, but I am able to weigh in with my own comments and concerns which, when communicated well to the client are often considered in the long run.

    When doing freelance work, I hav a hard time taking on projects I feel are doomed to failure, but it depends on the project. If it is someone that, regardless of my skepticism of the project, I believe in, I will move forward despite my reservations. Who the client is dictates my decision probably more than anything. Bottom line, it is always my responsibility as an artist and a marketing professional, to use my expertise to the benefit of my client, even if that means putting in negative two cents about the project.

    Great topic!

  • chrisrivera77

    I accept most projects that come my way. There are those cases where I have passed on a project, for the following reasons:

    The client thinks they have come up with the best project, that no one has thought of, and I go do my research to find out that they do not have a unique product, and really are wanting to create an inferior product.
    The client has lofty dreams of success without dealing with critical issues in their business model first, and doesn’t address them by the time it comes to develop the site. This is where the fear of blaming of failure would come from and this is when I would pass.
    The client is unwilling to listen to suggestions. This is an indicator that the person is too head strong, and may cause more problems than the project is worth.

    To me a good project should hae the following points when it comes to be a worth while project

    It’s offering a value to the community
    It’s solving a problem
    It’s doing something in a better way
    I will get some recognition for the work, helps with the portfolio.
    It’s for a good cause.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    That pixel thing was just stupid, and its success was down to a combination of dumb luck, and media interest in it because it was so stupid, which in turn led to it being momentarily all the rage. I’m happy for the guy that he made good money from it, but you can’t predictably repeat that kind of success, it’s like winning the lottery.

    I don’t believe any project is “doomed to fail”, and who knows, maybe your contribution will make a difference. But in general terms, yes – unless i have better competing work, I’ll take on a project that i think is a dumb idea. Who can say what will succeed, as you pointed out.

  • Liam McLennan

    Well written. I can relate to this post. I have often taken jobs that I did not believe would succeed. If you need work then there is little choice but my experience is that it is difficult to maintain a great relationships with clients who lose a lot of money.

  • http://www.HereNextYear.com lerxtjr

    Take the worst idea and put it in the hands of the best people, and virtually any idea can succeed.

    I turn down about half of the web projects that come my way. Not because of my faith in the idea (because Lord knows what I might thing is a bad idea could make millions tomorrow) but because I just sort of smell a rat and decide the project (or the person) is not a good fit for me.

    It’s all about people. You have to enjoy working with the people behind the project. Give me the best idea and it will send me to the nut house if the people behind the idea suck to work with. And, it’s just not worth it in that case.

  • http://www.deanclatworthy.com Dean C

    It’s my job to provide a business with the groundwork to make their project a success, but ultimately their success lies in their own ability. I can’t write their articles for them, or give them their “great ideas”, but I can give them a platform to do so :)

    Saying that, I have rejected quite a few (well paid) projects on the premise of it’s something that doesn’t fit in with my beliefs.

  • loganathan

    in my company, i have to accept and do it

  • Niubi

    “It’s the economy, stupid”! I think the vast majority of people will take any crumbs that are tossed their way in the current economic climate. Possibly one of the main reasons for the continued success of DubLi Network!

  • Heff

    Money talks! But sometimes even that’s not worth it!

  • http://CodePHP.co.uk PHP_Adam

    If I firmly believe that the project will be dead in the water when it is released, I outline my views. As if the client wont recommend you if their project fails, I have walked away from bad projects with hesitation.
    If its not a good project the link in your portfolio will soon be a 404.

  • Dorsey

    The pixel thing was the equivalent of the Pet Rock of the 70′s. As for Twitter, I haven’t found it necessary to subscribe the other’s thoughts yet, but who knows?

    As for the work, I’m a true whore – I’ll do whatever it takes to put money in my pocket and as Liberace said: “cry all the way to the bank.” If that “w” word is bleeped-out, fill in the blank.

  • Karina

    Yes, I totally understand how this can feel. Im in the same situation now and I feel horrible that I feel it to be this way. But I am the sales rep and the main person dealing with the clients and for me to try to sell something or solutions that I dont really believe in is so difficult. But unfortunately we all need a job and have to do what is asked of us. What I did like is that you guys mentioned you were able to say your worries, thoughts and concerns. I did that. But in the end was told in a NICE way, if I have something negative to say, don’t say it at all. Only say the positive. What to do… I’m in such a difficult position.