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When to Walk Away from a Job

"No matter how much we want or need jobs, sometimes we have no choice but to walk away from certain work. All jobs are not created equal."




All of us share a goal: We want to land jobs, lots of jobs. Most of us have expensive printers and we need jobs to feed them. Without ample projects, our staffs can’t earn their keep. Also, without enough jobs, there’s no profit to stuff in our jeans. We dedicate a lot of time and energy to get work in the door and, let’s face it, we all want as many jobs as we can manage.

But, no matter how much we want or need jobs, sometimes we have no choice but to walk away from certain work. All jobs are not created equal.

Some jobs are less desirable than others. I tend to rate a job’s desirability as great, good, fair, marginal, poor, terrible, or even run for your lives! We’ve had customers propose jobs to us where the phrase “walk away” isn’t emphatic enough to express the importance of escaping its wrath. But it’s a skill to know exactly when, why, and how to refuse a proposed job, reject job a you’ve already accepted, or in ome cases, physically show a customer to the door. Strategically leading jobs and customers out the door can be as important to your business’ future as enticing them in.

Why walk away?
When flirting with the idea of turning down a job, you first need to look at all of the factors of the customer’s proposal: stipulated deadlines, commitments to providing and facilitating essential information about the job, and performance and price expectations.
All of these factors should be reasonable, and most importantly, possible. It’s your responsibility to make that determination.

Is the concept realistic? Can you complete the project by the requested deadline without incurring additional expenses? Will you need to expedite shipping of media or finished product? If you understand the scope of the job and know how long all of the elements of the job will take, you should be able to answer these questions and then determine if you should indeed proceed with a particular project, or turn it away.

When a client comes to you with seemingly unrealistic time constraints, provide the customer with strict deadlines and financial repercussions. Here’s an example: “Mr. Customer, we have to have the print-ready files by June 15 at 8:00 a.m. For every day after the file is late, the price will increase by 20 percent. If all the files are not in our possession by 8:00 a.m. on June 20, our shop will not be responsible for the deadline.” Both parties understanding all of the time constraints involved in production will allow you to best guide your client with deadlines throughout the process – and also gauge your client’s ability to adhere to the guidelines necessary to complete the job.


Another factor to consider is communication. For a project to be completed, an open flow of communication must occur between your shop and the client. The shop needs to know accurate dimensions, whether the graphics will exist indoors or outdoors, how long the graphics will be displayed, and what the viewing distance is. Without this information, you simply can’t perform. If the client is unable to provide these necessary details, walk away.

Additionally, there’s this: Some clients simply have a history of being problematical. If a new client is walking in our front door, they probably just walked out of (or were kicked out of) the door of one of the shops down the street. Customers typically switch print providers because either, a) the shop screwed up and now they want to give us a shot; or, b) our competitor has refused their business. I’ve been lucky enough to have competitors who will share helpful information regarding clients they had experienced problems with – and this helped us to make informed decisions about our future business with that customer. I’ve also shared this sort of information. Obviously we have to be careful not to say things in these conversations that could result in a lawsuit, but we can save each other much heartache by disclosing information about a customer’s history of bad behavior.

The price is right
We all expect to make reasonable profits. But, sometimes, customers come to us with unrealistic notions about what they think they should pay for our work. For instance, we recently had a large casino customer ask us to quote a shuttle-bus wrap. They responded to our quote with, “Craig, Company X did our last bus and they did it for $2000 less than your quote and it looks great.” When I suggested they go back to Company X, the customer responded: “We would, but they went out of business.” I asked them if they wanted us to go out of business because we would if we used the defunct competitor’s pricing strategy. Had they not accepted our reasonable quote, we would have walked away from the job.

The most difficult types of projects for me to turn down are the “never-before-done” jobs. A wise person should run away from this situation, but my response to the unknown is always: “That sounds like fun.”

Evaluating a never-before-seen project requires the same strategies used to determine whether or not to take on any other job. It’s a simple question of breaking down the complex, seemingly impossible project into each part of production and determining whether each component is doable. For these types of jobs, you must have reasonable expectations of success and a customer willing to accept some of the risk. If
those factors aren’t in place, even I will walk away from it.

Extreme measures
What about walking away from a job that’s already in progress? Firing customers, or walking away from something you’ve already taken on, should be extremely rare. However, the earlier you reject a customer or their job, the less damage is done. You want to mitigate the impact this will have on your company’s reputation and, of course, you want to reduce the possibility of being sued.


The best way to ensure that leaving a project doesn’t result in painful consequences is to document in writing every decision made with the client. If you and the customer agree on a required deadline via the telephone, create a “paper trail” by jotting down the conversation points in an e-mail.

Getting every decision and agreement in writing keeps both parties honest and responsible for the outcome of the decisions made. If you must walk away from a job, e-mails will provide you with the written rationales as to why you had to resort to extreme measures.



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