Sticking to your values.
In this episode, Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Grace Abell, designer at Abell Design — a brand and digital creative studio.
“To cut a long story short — I’m a seasoned freelancer who is just getting back into working evenings as I’m caring for twins during the day.
My problem is this:
As I do not have the capacity for project work, I’m now taking on small tasks from one agency whose fingers are in many pies. I have a set of ethical views which are privately held. These tend to overlap with what this client does, but not always.
Therefore, I need some tips on turning down work on topics which are icky for me personally, but aren’t icky for other people. The client always asks “are you available?” and doesn’t usually disclose what the task is. This kind of work is often under NDA.
I’m just very scared I’ll agree to a job based on my availability, then the content will arrive in my inbox and I’ll have to turn it down there and then.
I’ve considered writing my list of no-gos in a contract, but then I don’t really want my views to be known by every client. I’m not ashamed of my opinions — I just think it’s more professional and mature to keep them to myself. What do you think?”
Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:00:12] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:00:21] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids Community, do our best to answer it, but of course we start each one by looking back at the last episode. Last time, we were talking about…
[00:00:32] – Frankie
Having lots of phone calls about possible collaborations and them not necessarily coming to anything.
[00:00:37] – Steve
Thank you for all your comments.
“This is also me. I love a collab and am fired up by ideas. My problem tends to be that all my collab possibilities are on post-it notes, saved web pages, saved profiles on Instagram, Google Notes, sometimes in a spreadsheet…
So, a few months ago, I hired a part-time VA. I send all of my random people and thoughts to her and she logs them on my CRM — Customer Relationship Management System — and then I come up with around three to four buckets of people and/or reasons for approaching them, and with formatted email templates for each one.
She then does all the emails and follows up with them on that basis. It seems to be working well so far. Now, I just need to stop myself feeling massive FOMO, or feeling like I have to approach every single person in the world for a collab! Because, seriously, as if I’m not busy enough!”
Wow, that was organised, wasn’t it?
[00:01:28] – Frankie
Right! She has so many things she’s talking to people about, she has a VA who’s organising them. I love it.
[00:01:35] – Frankie
Susannah Dale says,
“I make sure I set aside ten minutes before each call to do a bullet point list of things I want to tell them, things I want to know, and things I want to get out of the call. I also keep a conversation log — which sounds like it’s straight out of a stalker’s toolkit, I know, but it’s genuinely helpful. It’s a simple Excel sheet with date, name and company, what we talked about and next steps I’m going to take. It’s really helpful to make sure those conversations have the opportunity to blossom into something, and you’ve also got a point of reference for going back to them, even if it’s a couple of months down the line.”
[00:02:06] – Steve
It’s actually a very good idea.
[00:02:08] – Frankie
[00:02:08] – Steve
I think this about when we deal with clients as well — because, especially when you start out, you think you can hold all this stuff in your head, but over time, you get so many people you meet, so many conversations, so many client projects, it’s good to have this stuff written down. Yes.
[00:02:24] – Steve
And Annemarie Krijbolder says,
“Maybe it’s a bit like dating? Don’t go on a different date every day or you’ll get burnout, and burnout isn’t very conducive to making real connections. It all becomes very samey. Should we find a way of sieving which calls to have? Or, should we only be prioritising making the time for these conversations when we have actual projects or opportunities in mind?”
[00:02:46] – Frankie
And Dominique van Werkhoven says,
“If the phone call won’t lead to Marmite on toast and a hundred podcast episodes, do we even really want it?”
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:06:31] – Frankie
Episode 102 and our question comes from Grace Abell, who is a designer at abelldesign.co.uk,
“Hi, Frankie and Steve…”
[00:06:39] – Steve
[00:06:40] – Frankie
“To cut a long story short, I’m a seasoned freelancer who’s just getting back into working evenings as I’m caring for my twins during the day. My problem is this: As I do not have the capacity for project work, I’m now taking on small tasks from one agency whose fingers are in many pies.
I have a set of ethical views which are privately held. These tend to overlap with what this client does, but not always. Therefore, I need some tips on turning down work on topics which are icky for me personally, but aren’t icky for other people.
The client always asks, ‘Are you available?’ and doesn’t usually disclose what the task actually is. This kind of work is often under NDA.
I’m just very scared I’ll agree to do a job based on my availability, then the content will arrive in my inbox and I’ll have to turn it down there and then.
I’ve considered writing my list of ‘no gos’ in a contract, but then I don’t really want my views to be known by every client. I’m not ashamed of my opinions, I just think it’s more professional and mature to keep them to myself. What do you think?
[00:07:36] – Steve
[00:07:37] – Frankie
Isn’t it? It’s a really good question.
[00:07:39] – Steve
Being led by your values.
[00:07:41] – Frankie
And not compromising on them. She doesn’t want to do that.
[00:07:44] – Steve
Have you had a situation where you have?
[00:07:47] – Frankie
I don’t think I have.
[00:07:48] – Steve
Do you have any morals, Frankie?
[00:07:53] – Frankie
Maybe, like really early days there were a couple of things I was asked to do — but no, I don’t think I have. Have you?
[00:08:00] – Steve
I was once asked to write a script for [bleeped out]
[00:08:04] – Frankie
Oh, wow, really?
[00:08:06] – Steve
Yeah. And even though they were like, “you know, [bleeped out]”
[00:08:09] – Frankie
[00:08:11] – Steve
And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that. I’m not comfortable.”
[00:08:12] – Frankie
[00:08:13] – Steve
So I did actually turn that down.
So, “I’ve considered writing my list of ‘no gos’ in a contract, but I don’t really want my views to be known by every client. I’m not ashamed of my opinions, I just think it’s more professional and mature to keep them to myself.”
Now. I don’t know. Actually, I kind of feel like if you have values to which you will and won’t work, is it unprofessional? I think it feels professional to sort of lay those out, because it means that you’re not wasting their time, you’re not wasting your time. There’s an argument for that side of it, right? It’s certainly not unprofessional to say you won’t work on a certain thing because it goes against what you want to do.
[00:09:12] – Frankie
I think that’s all you need to say, really.
I do think it’s worth putting something in your contract that says, “I maintain the right to refuse any work that I feel goes against my moral standards”. I don’t know, however you want to word it. If you’ve got a lawyer that you work with that can phrase that in a better way. But, I think a catch all clause — “I have the right to say no if this job turns out to be something that I don’t personally support”, or whatever. I think that’s fine.
I think there’s a difference between doing that and literally laying down what your values are. I think that’s putting yourself in a bit of a vulnerable position. I’m not sure why I feel that way. I guess you put your cards on the table and maybe that could be used against you? I don’t know.
[00:09:53] – Steve
It depends what’s on those cards though.
[00:09:57] – Frankie
[00:09:57] – Steve
Because that’s the whole point, is that you draw people to you, you push them away. Do you want to work on things or with people who aren’t aligned? I agree though, if you were on some kind of retainer where they expected you to work on whatever they threw at you, then having that in there saying, “Yeah, I’m going to work with you, but I still reserve the right to say, nah”.
[00:10:20] – Frankie
Yeah, definitely. I feel like you want a clause that’s like, “I reserve the right to say no, and I don’t really want to get into a debate about that”. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you need to justify why you don’t want to do that thing. It’s just really awkward for everybody. A lot of emotional stress that you don’t really need. So then, I suppose, laying out your values transparently would cut out some of that stress potentially. But…
[00:10:48] – Steve
I mean, I suppose the thing here is it doesn’t really matter what I or you think. As in, if Grace doesn’t feel comfortable sharing them, then she shouldn’t feel she has to share them? So, I’m saying I don’t think it’s about being unprofessional, but it’s about you and how you feel about it, and if you don’t want to end up in a conversation about things, I totally get that, respect that and I’d feel okay not to do that. Yeah, not to show them to everyone, as you put it.
[00:11:21] – Frankie
I think the bottom line with this situation is she needs more clients. And I understand she’s in a difficult position where she has limited time in the evenings, so she’s taking on bits and bobs basically from this agency. But, would it not be better for her to try and find clients who would allow her to work in that way, in those hours, in a flexible way, but who she can pick and choose more and has more control over?
Because… I just feel like as somebody who also has high moral standards and stuff, and like high ethics, I would find it very draining to feel like I’m constantly on edge being sent something and not knowing what it is? She clearly sees that a lot of the work this agency are doing is fine, but some of it isn’t.
And just that doubt, that niggling doubt every time they email you — that must be really exhausting. And then if you are put in a position where you have to say no, that’s also exhausting. And you’re tired! You’re working nights anyway, you’ve got twins during the day. I mean, surely find a solution where, yeah, you have more control over who your clients are? I guess cut out the agency bit would be ideal, but I appreciate you’re working limited hours and maybe you feel your options are limited. Maybe they are. I don’t know.
[00:12:39] – Steve
There’s a huge advantage to working for an agency, or other bigger companies, especially in Grace’s situation, because they’re doing the selling, they’re doing the management.
[00:12:49] – Frankie
You don’t have to do all that, yeah.
[00:12:49] – Steve
You’ve just got to do the do and invoice. But yeah, I see what you mean. If you have more things to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to, then it becomes easier for you to legitimately say, “oh, I can’t take that project on”. Maybe you don’t even have to say, “that doesn’t align with my values”.
[00:13:07] – Frankie
So, it’s twofold. One — if you had other clients, you could literally pick and choose what work you’re doing with them, but it would also give you the financial freedom to say no with confidence to the agency as well. But then, when are you going to find the time to find the other clients when you’re already doing? It’s hard.
But that is like the crux of the issue is that you feel like the work you’re being given is out of your control. Because it’s very different to a client coming to me with a brief — I know exactly what it is from the off. Whereas, you feel like you’re just being sent stuff, or agreeing to stuff without knowing what it even is.
[00:14:12] – Steve
Oh, Grace. It is tricky. I mean, if it is that you know they have particular clients. Let’s say you’re very… you really don’t like working with companies who make fajita kits, for example. It goes against your values. But you know that a fajita kit manufacturer is on their list of clients. Then you could just say, “I see that you work with these particular clients. Just to say, that goes against my core values.” Yeah. I mean, is there anything wrong with that?
[00:14:42] – Frankie
Okay, two things, two things, two things…
One is, yes, I think that’s not a bad shout, in that if you know they have specific clients that you would never want to do when you work for then dropping an email saying: “I’m aware you’re doing work with X, Y and Z. Due to my own personal values, I’d rather not work with those people. Just heads up if stuff is coming from them anytime soon and I’d rather skip those particular projects”.
Oh no, I’ve forgotten what the second thing was. You’re going to have to keep talking and it might come back to me…
[00:15:11] – Steve
[00:15:12] – Frankie
[00:15:16] – Steve
[00:15:17] – Frankie
But, the other thing is, it’s not clear to us from this question whether this has actually happened yet. So, I feel like you don’t need to put yourself in the position where you’re laying all your values out and saying ‘no’ to stuff when you don’t even know if it’s going to happen, if you see what I mean. Because, I feel like she says, “I’m just very scared that I’ll agree to a job, et cetera”. As in, I don’t get the sense she has been put in this position yet? It’s more that she is afraid that she’ll be put in this position.
[00:15:46] – Steve
[00:15:47] – Frankie
So maybe, don’t jump the gun and go in with this hard and fast “I won’t work with these people, and these are my values. Here they are in my contract thing,” until maybe you’re put in a position where you need to have that conversation?
[00:16:00] – Steve
Cross the bridge when you come to it.
[00:16:02] – Frankie
Yeah. But if we have misunderstood and you have already been put in that position, then, yes, you need to put your boundaries in place now to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But, my God, it’s really hard, isn’t it? I think we need to recognise how hard this is, particularly in the current climate. Like, not just Grace’s situation, where she has limited hours, but the fact that there is just less work around, less budget being spent. And unfortunately, the people that have budget are sometimes in industries doing things that you don’t necessarily want to endorse; directly or indirectly.
[00:16:36] – Frankie
Perhaps there’s another side to this where, yes — there’s a conversation with the agency that might need to happen. Yes, there’s trying to find other clients, so that saying ‘no’ to the agency is less difficult. But also, is there something to be said about… And we’ve talked about this in other episodes, about building your presence online or in life that has your values at the core of what you do, and therefore it’s very obvious when people come to your website, whether or not you are aligned with the kind of work that they are doing.
And then — and I know it’s like long game stuff — but hopefully you will end up with a bunch of clients who are not just NOT doing the things you don’t want to work on, but are doing things that you would love to work on; that line up positively with your values; that are doing things that you think are making the world better and whatever.
[00:17:28] – Steve
Oh my gosh. Absolutely. Picking a niche of your values rather than a niche of print design or colourful design or whatever. It’s like I work for X.
[00:17:38] – Frankie
Yeah, it’s another layer, isn’t it? Like, “I am a design studio and I work with these kinds of people who have similar values to me”. And, I feel like if you built a business like that, then putting those values literally in your contract would feel less jarring, because it’s part of it. That’s almost what people would expect of you having built that sort of brand. Maybe that is the long term goal and maybe that’s three years down the line or whatever.
[00:18:02] – Steve
When the twins are in school.
[00:18:03] – Frankie
Yeah. And then maybe you won’t be put in this position. You avoid the position altogether and ultimately get some other clients.
[00:18:11] – Steve
And lose some morals.
[00:18:13] – Frankie
That’s always an option.
[00:18:18] – Steve
Okay, you know the drill. If you’ve got something to say on this to help Grace out, please do get in touch!