Should You Accept An “Ugly Duckling” Project?

Swans or Ugly DucklingsIn the world of children’s fairy tales the ugly duckling was the bird that none of the other ducks wanted to have anything to do with because it was different.

Similarly, some projects are “ugly ducklings” – they are projects that most freelancers don’t want to deal with because they are different.

In the fairy tales, the story of the ugly duckling has a happy ending – it turns out that the ugly duckling was different because it was not a duckling at all. Instead, it was a beautiful swan. Likewise, taking on an “ugly duckling” freelancing project may prove to have an unexpectedly happy ending for some freelancers.

This post will help you identify “ugly duckling” freelance projects and decide whether or not you should accept an unpopular project.

Is The Project An “Ugly Duckling?”

If you are looking into a project that many other freelancers don’t seem to want to handle, then it’s possible that the project is an “ugly duckling.”

Here are five possible characteristics of “ugly duckling” freelance projects:

  • The project is too big. Some projects are so large that most freelancers are afraid to tackle them. Other freelancers may not have the project management skills that it takes to work on a large project.
  • The project requires specific knowledge or skills. The skill set and knowledge required for some projects is too technical or too specific for most freelancers.
  • The client requires some handholding. If you’ve freelanced for a while, then you know it’s true. Some clients require more handholding than others. Many freelancers choose not to work with this type of client.
  • The work is boring. Some projects are more interesting than others to work on. Some freelancers choose not to work on projects that are dull or uninteresting.
  • The work is not clearly defined. Many freelancers only take work when the client’s expectations are clearly outlined. However, some clients do not know what they want (or they may know, but not be able to express it).

Five Reasons to Take On An “Ugly Duckling” Project

Should you accept an “ugly duckling” project that other freelancers have turned down?

Such projects are often ripe with opportunity and can provide your freelancing business with unparalleled opportunities despite the fact that other freelancers don’t want these projects.

Here are five reasons that you may want to consider accepting an “ugly duckling” project:

  • Customer gratitude and loyalty. If the client is having trouble finding a freelancer to do the work and you complete it successfully, then you may have gained a loyal client. (This can be especially true if other freelancers have already let the client down.)
  • Your Chance to Shine. Sure, the project requires specific skills and knowledge – but it just so happens that you have those very skills that the project requires (or you know of someone who can be a subcontractor that has them). If so, then this project is your chance to shine.
  • You’re a People Person and You Know It. A little handholding doesn’t bother you because you know it is just part of providing excellent customer service. You’ll use your excellent people skills to deal with the challenging customer and they’ll never even realize how difficult they were being.
  • Job Security. A large project that will take many weeks or even months to complete can provide your freelancing business with job security. (Be sure to specify that you will receive periodic payments upon completion of specific milestones so that you don’t have to wait until the end of the project to get paid.)
  • Problems May Be Exaggerated. You should always conduct your own investigation of a client and project. Just because other freelancers report having difficulty doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have trouble too.

Five Reasons to Turn Down an “Ugly Duckling” Project

On the other hand, sometimes other freelancers stay away from a project for a good reason.

There are some definite reasons that you should turn down an “ugly duckling” freelance project. I’ve listed a few reasons not to take unpopular projects here (you can probably come up with some additional reasons of your own):

  • Compensation is Inadequate. If the pay being offered doesn’t equal the effort that the work requires, then taking on an ugly duckling project just may not be worth your time and effort.
  • Your Schedule is Already Too Full. If your project schedule is too full, then starting a particularly challenging project is probably not a good idea. You won’t have the extra time to give it the attention that it needs.
  • You Don’t Have the Skills. When a project requires unusual skills or training, a client often has trouble finding a freelancer who can do the work. If you know that you don’t have the required skills, then you shouldn’t try to “fake” it.
  • You Know Your Limits. You may be a people person, but you know what you can take and what you can’t and you know that you can’t take the challenges that this client poses. It may be better to turn down the project than to generate a bad reference.
  • You Have From a Good Source That The Project Is Impossible. While many “ugly duckling” projects may be diamonds in the rough, many more are not. If you’ve heard from a source that you trust that the project is not worth taking, then you’re certainly entitled to heed that advice

Have You Taken On An “Ugly Duckling” Project?

If so, how did it turn out? Did your “ugly duckling” turn out to be a swan in disguise? Or, was the project just as ugly as it first seemed to be?


About the author: Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 18 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts.


Image in this post by simpologist