How about that for a blog post title? Of course, I can’t claim credit for it. It’s reader question Tuesday and it was actually the reader who phased it this way.
Here’s the question:
I made a mistake.
Took on some side work that I thought would be a simple way to make money but it turned out to be a mess. I have stayed up nights and worked weekends to get it out the door but it is a failure.
I knew it would be from the beginning and stated my concerns to the team and project manager but they did not listen. Even though I should have stopped working on it at that point, I tried to power through it.
Now the project has truly blown up for all the reasons I said it would. And now I am extremely tired and have to catch up on all of the other work I neglected. I guess I was not assertive enough and should have set boundaries. I was supposed to work 20 hours per week but management did not tell the team that so they were confused when I would say the customizations they wanted would break the budget.
My business partner told me to be more assertive but I guess pride made me think I could pull it off. When do you pull the fire alarm and run out of the building?
When Do You Run out of the Building?
Let’s dive in and answer the question as quickly as possible. When should you pull the fire alarm and run out of the building, presumably never to return?
Professionally speaking, this won’t ever go well, and it will burn bridges. By “pulling the fire alarm,” I’m assuming that you’re referring to a relatively perfunctory bit of notice and a quitting of the project. Doing that on a contract, especially one going poorly, will strain and break professional relationships.
That said, if we’re talking about personal sanity or burn-out, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Side work shouldn’t ever threaten your mail line of work, let alone something like your health. So understand that when I say not to pull the rip cord, I’m speaking strictly from a professional perspective.
If Not Pulling the Fire Alarm, Then How to Get Out of It?
When I do work for clients or even have sales discussions with prospects, I tend to operate in perpetual consultant mode. What I mean is that I’m always looking for a way to help them, even when I decline taking the work.
In the event that I ever do what we’re discussing about here, “breaking up” with a client, I still maintain this attitude. And that’s what I’d recommend here. There are two main ways, off the top, that you can be helpful with a break-up in this situation.
- Find someone else that can help them or that they should call instead of you. Ideally, you’d tee this up as recommending someone more equipped for the situation.
- Have the hard conversation: this project is going to fail. Tell them that you don’t feel good continuing to accept money because it would constitute malpractice. And then (and yes, I know, this sucks) offer to write some of your revenue off for your role in this.
In both cases, you’re getting out of the situation. But, unlike just phoning it in one day (or giving a couple of weeks of notice), you’re making this about their best interests rather than yours.
I’d say beyond getting out of the immediate situation here, there are some broader lessons for free agents to take away here. For the rest of this post, I’ll speak to these. How can you keep things favorable and avoid nightmarish client engagements?