How to Pass on a Project

Sometimes a project will make its way into your pipeline that you either don’t think you can handle or don’t want to take on. There are a lot of situations where that might be the case:

  • It isn’t the right size for you
  • It requires skills that you don’t currently possess and can’t easily acquire
  • The timeline is too tight given your current schedule
  • You have a weird feeling about the client
  • You don’t think you can work within the process the client requires

The question is, what do you do in these situations? You could tell the client you’re not interested and leave it at that, but I find that being a helpful resource in a situation like this can lead to new opportunities in the future. How do you do that?

Build a Reliable and Trustworthy Network

You should know other freelancer and agencies from industry events, online chats, and other networking opportunities. Ideally, the freelancers you know should have varied skill sets and the ability to take on projects of various sizes. For example, you might know a designer who specializes in large-scale corporate websites (and does a bit of print work, as well) and another who almost exclusively performs logo and identify work.

Do your best to vet your network so you can feel confident referring prospects to them. Ideally you’ll have worked with a contact in the past so you have first-hand knowledge of the quality of their end-product and process. Don’t be afraid to ask people to send you work samples so you can refer them work. Very few people will refuse a proposition like that.

Explain Why You’re Not a Fit

When referring a prospect to another freelancer, explain to them why you don’t think you’re a fit for their project. I’ve found being tactful and direct to be the best route to take. Something like this could work:

Ryan, I’d love to work with you on your project as it is a good fit for my skill set and it seems like it could be a fun one. Unfortunately, I have other projects scheduled for the time leading up to your specified launch date.

By explaining why you can’t work on a project, you leave the window open for the prospect to change the thing that is preventing you from working together. For example, I’ve had people change launch dates to something more amenable to my schedule in order to work with me. If I hadn’t let them know what was standing in the way, they wouldn’t have been able to do that.

Refer with Details

After explaining why you can’t work on a project, choose a couple people from your network who you think might be a good fit for it and send their contact details to the prospect. In addition, provide some information about why you think each person would help make the project successful and (ideally) a little bit of context about them. That context could include past projects, collaborative work experience, or anything else you think would help the prospect make a decision. Remember, you’re trying to be helpful.

Follow Up

I don’t always do this, but on projects that I really wish I could have worked on, I’ll follow up with the prospect down the road to see how things went. Sometimes they’ll be working with one of the people who I referred them to but as often as not they won’t have started yet. That gives me another chance to work with them and take on a project I was excited about.

General Guidelines

The most important thing to remember is that you should be helpful and courteous. Why? Because you’re a good person, that’s why. Also, if you help someone get what they need, they’ll be more likely to help you down the line. This could be a referral to you for a different project, an introduction to someone who could help you with your business, or advice of some sort.

I’m interested to know how other people pass on their projects. How do you go about referring work to other freelancers if you can’t or don’t want to work with the prospect?

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