Rejection - how do you bounce back?

When I started out I was very sensitive to criticism, to a certain extent I still am. I took it personally, I’d agonise over it for days and internalise it, going over any email or conversation, endlessly torturing myself.

When I became a copywriter I soon realised that rejection was par for the course, not because I was a bad copywriter but because it’s the nature of the job. Often your experience isn’t what they’re looking for, or they’ve chosen someone they’ve worked with before who’s a safe pair of hands, or perhaps your style of writing isn’t right for their particular brand. Whatever the reason, no matter how nice they are, it hurts, and sometimes they’re not so nice – and that hurts even more.

If you were looking for a permanent job working for an employer you might experience a lot of rejection before finding success, and then you wouldn’t experience it again perhaps for many years – until you applied for another job. However, as a copywriter, freelance writer or any self-employed person working for themselves, regardless of industry, you will experience rejection on a regular basis. This may wane slightly the more experienced you become, with clients coming to you once you’re more established, and eventually, find yourself in a position to turn down clients rather than the other way round. Those early years however, will be full of ups and downs.


Anybody who says their work has never been criticised or rejected is telling porkies, because all of us will have been turned down for something at least once in our lives, especially if you’re self-employed. Never listen to anyone who says they’ve never had their work criticised or they’ve never been rejected – no one is that perfect.

It’s hard when you start out, because you’re constantly being bombarded with images of people who are very, very successful, who seem pretty invincible, who’ve never been rejected and had a smooth trajectory to success. But even they will have experienced rejection at some point in their careers, they will have had to move on, dust themselves down and move on to the next job. One of the factors of why they’re so successful may have been down to their ability to deal with rejection in a more positive and healthy way.

The important thing about rejection is not that it's happened to you, but how you respond to it – some do it better than others. How well you come back from rejection will determine how successful you’re going to be, because if you allow it to drag you down, you’ll reach a point where you don’t get back up at all.

Thing is, why does it hurt so much when we get rejected? And why is it that some will bounce back quicker than others?

Firstly, rejection elicits pain, and serious pain, because apparently the same parts of the brain are activated as when you experience physical pain. So it’s no small wonder that it smarts in the way that it does. Rejection has the power to take us off course, it can unbalance us and make us feel isolated. No one will ever admit to being rejected because to do so will be to admit weakness, and if you’re a copywriter, then you must give off the constant smell of success, no business will invest in your time if you come across as a loser – or so it seems.

If you lived in hunter/gatherer times rejection meant possible expulsion from the group, which could lead to an untimely death, so you’d correct your behaviour so you’d remain within your tribe.

Today, being rejected doesn’t have quite the same dramatic impact, we’re not going to die when someone turns down our work, or tells us we’re not up to the mark, or if someone criticises our grammar or punctuation we’re not going to be eaten by bears, but it can still give our self-esteem a battering.

We can turn in on ourselves and destroy what’s left of our shaky self-esteem, we can ram the final nails in the coffin by becoming intensely critical of ourselves, become annoyed by our perceived short-comings. But this isn’t good because it’s self-destructive, it’s unhealthy for our emotional well-being and it can stop us functioning all-together, and when you’re self-employed, confidence is an essential quality.

Why do some people bounce back quicker? Well, they may have better levels of self-esteem, they may also be surrounded by people who tell them how amazing they are when the chips are down, boosting their confidence in the face of defeat, pushing them on towards success. Some people, even if they are alone, may have better levels of self-confidence and be naturally positive and therefore be able to handle rejection better. If you already have shaky self-esteem and lack confidence then it may be harder to bounce back, and if you are on your own, you only have your own perspective to rely on. There’s no one to give you a different perspective, or a more balanced, objective view of things. If you start knocking yourself down, there’s no one there to tell you to stop.

I have experienced all these feelings, but as time has gone on I’ve become stronger and more resilient. I’ve found better ways of dealing with rejection so now it’s far easier to deal with and I’m able go on to the next job. I’m not saying I don’t respond it at all, but I don’t wind up in a corner analysing it to the nth degree. It happens to everyone else, so why shouldn’t it happen to me?

How can we deal with rejection better if we’re self-employed?

There are a few things I turn to now and it helps.

1 Always review the situation if you must and if you think it’s necessary, and ask for feedback if you can, but don’t go in for in-depth analysis and self-criticism.

2 Remind yourself of your achievements so far. Draw up a list of all your best skills, all the things you’ve been complimented on before. Look at your feedback or testimonials, see the good things clients have said about your work in the past, and remind yourself of how good you are.

3 Whatever you do, don’t spend time alone reliving it and going over it again and again. Isolation is not the solution, surround yourself with love, be around the people who love you the most and who’ll support you and remind you of why you’re worth it.

4 Don’t have long spells of doing nothing until the next job comes along, put yourself in charge, get back on the ‘horse’ right away. Start looking for new clients, write a blog, tidy up your website, offer to guest blog, do some training. Keep yourself busy.

By soothing the pain that rejection inflicts we become less aggressive and angry about it, that in itself can help us to feel better – it makes me feel better. I work to build up my self-esteem, not break it down, that way I lessen the damage it can inflict. Being rejected isn’t the end of the world and you will come across it at some point in your freelance career, but if you learn how to cope with it better, you’ll have a far better chance of having a successful career in the long term.

The Vague Client

                 The Vague One

                 The Vague One

I’ve already touched on the vagaries of the micro-client and today I’m devoting some time to the vague one. You know, the client who doesn’t know what he wants but hopes you do, the client who is vague about how much she thinks she should pay, and does everything to bring the price down and your mood along with it.

It’s difficult to know what to do when you’re faced with The Vague One, sometimes it takes years of experience to know what you’re dealing with. However, it helps if you have a few tips and guidelines with you, so the next time you’re dealing with the Knight of Ambiguity you’ll have alarm bells ringing in your head.

The I-don’t-know-what-I-want-but-I-hope-you-do client

I’ve sometimes had a client come to me with an idea, a new business they’re putting together and they need someone to write up the web copy. It seems alright at first, until you start asking questions. His/Her answers are usually as vague as the project, “oh you know, it’s like this business or this company, something along those lines.”

When their business is shrouded in mystery.....

When their business is shrouded in mystery.....

WHO exactly are you?

They’ll give you examples of other similar companies, links even, and then that’s it. It sounds great, but there’s relatively little else to go on, what’s the company ethos, who is the team behind it, who runs the business, where are they based, who is their target audience? It’s not like you need to know the intimate details of their personal life, but it’s like they don’t exist. There’s no personality behind the brand, there’s no hint as to why they’re doing this, no clues as to their ideal client.

Do they know what they’re doing?

You start to wonder if they have any idea of what they’re actually doing themselves, and if they don’t know why they’re doing it, then how does that come across to any potential clients. “It’s just like this, and you can write it like that” it’s almost as if it’s a carbon copy of another business, with nothing to distinguish it, no real benefits and no features. You ask more questions, they’re vague and unresponsive, because as you soon discover, they don’t know any more than you do. What do you do?

Please tell me more......

Please tell me more......

Ask lots of questions

The key is perhaps to ask as many questions as you can, and if you feel capable, continue to write to something and hope for the best. It’s possible they’ll come back and quibble about the content, and your argument at this point is that you’re only basing your content on what they’ve given you.

Sometimes you have to bail ship

If you really feel you simply don’t have enough to go on, it may be that you simply have to walk away from this one. Admit defeat and move on. You can’t create nowt from nowt as they say. Be polite about it and tell them that perhaps they need to sit down and think about what they want, where they’re going, and come back to you at a later time when they’ve had time to think about it. It’s not that you want them to do all the work for you, but sometimes, you do need a little bit more to go on than vague instructions for an identikit business, spinning copy from another identical website.

The I-don’t-really-want-to-pay-you-what-you’re-asking client

Someone comes to you and asks you to write up some web copy, or a series of blogs. They ask you for a quote, and you email back with it, then they disappear. Then they come back after a fortnight and ask the same thing again, you tell them again and what you’re charging. Then they disappear, then they come back and ask you to remind them what the cost was again, and this time they’re vague about the exact amount of content they want, they misquote you on what you asked for originally, and then attempt to barter with you in an attempt to bring the price down.

Please make this stop.....

Please make this stop.....

Sound familiar?

Yes, that’s the vague one who wants something for nothing, or something a lot cheaper than what you’re willing to do it for. What can you do? Hopefully, common sense dictates that at some point this backwards and forwards volley of frustrating emails will result in a large klaxon going off in your head.

A fair job at a fair price

There has to be a point at when you stop. And rather than waste valuable time continuing to exchange emails with them, and trust me some potential clients will go at this like a dog with a bone, you should say enough is enough. There may be some clients who are used to haggling and bartering in this way, and that’s okay, perhaps in their experience or in their line of business that’s perfectly natural. But, it’s isn’t natural to you, what is natural to you is offering a good job at a fair price, so you can support yourself and your family. You can’t continue with it indefinitely, it’s going nowhere, you have to put a stop to it. In the past, I used to continue for far longer than I should have done which left me feeling exasperated and extremely frustrated, but now I know better.

I can't take any more....

I can't take any more....

Be firm

Give them a final quote on a separate document, break it down, show them exactly what they’re getting and why you’re charging this much, and then in the body of your email tell them politely that this is what you charge and that it’s all there in the attachment. If you charge more than the average client, explain why, perhaps you have experience in a specialist area or you’re simply more experienced generally. I don’t charge as much as more seasoned copywriters, but that’s different to just giving the work away for practically nothing. Tell them that if they change their mind and want to do business with you, to get back in touch and then leave it. Don’t answer any more emails, don’t be tempted, let it go. If they sense you’re being firm and you’re not going to budge, they will eventually give up.

When you're at screaming point.....

When you're at screaming point.....


Negotiating vs haggling

This is entirely different from a client who genuinely wants to work with you but asks if there might be a discount or a special offer package for a large amount of work, they may mention this at the get-go and you can certainly consider it. I often give discounts on large orders myself, or offer to do a long-term package at a lower price. It’s good to negotiate with clients for a great deal and if they’re happy with your work and the services you provide, they’ll come back. At the end of the day, you develop a sixth sense for it, and there’s a world of difference between negotiating with a client and someone haggling with you and wearing you down till you give in to their way of thinking.

If you’re unsure, walk away, your time is precious and you can’t afford to give work away. There’ll come a point when you recognise The Vague One as soon he/she makes an appearance, leaving you with more time to find the clients who’ll value your work.