He’s a terrific guy who I like a lot. But we are a terrible match. So I sent his deposit back and wished him well.
A few things worth noting…
#1. I didn’t have to give the money back.
I’ve done a bunch of work already and could have negotiated to keep some or all of it. But when you give someone their money back you’ve bought the ability to walk away on your own terms. Plus, I think it leaves the other person feeling that they were treated fairly, which matters for your reputation more broadly.
#2. We are not employees.
We are not beholden to our clients any more than they are to us; we have as much right to end things as they do. The best relationships are the ones in which everyone is happy and excited to be working together.
#3. Trust your gut.
Looking back, I knew it was a mistake from the start. He asked the wrong kinds of questions and was focused on things that, to me, seemed unimportant.
But we clicked on a personal level and the project was both unusual and interesting. Even so, I should have passed.
Overall, my work goal is pretty simple: Every client has to be someone I like; every project has to be something I enjoy. As of 10:00 AM this morning, I am back on track!