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When to Walk Away from a Job

(July 2012) posted on Tue Jul 10, 2012

"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."

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By Craig Miller

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.