On Ethics and Marketing: A Eulogy to All the Work I've Turned Down

"Am I naive for turning down work so often?" I posed this question to a friend and fellow marketer after saying "no" to what would have been a lucrative contract. The contract was for a company in my space, to do work I really enjoy, and for exactly the rate I asked for. So, why was I turning it down?

Because the company was one of those that sounds nice and looks good enough on paper but shows its true colors as soon as you dig into the monetization strategy. In particular, this company was going to get a referral fee for a service I don't think people should use or pay for in the first place. I simply couldn't accept payment for work that led people to that kind of product.

Because of this, turning down the contract should have been easy ... except for the fact that this is probably the fourth or fifth such contract I've turned down since I started freelancing five years ago. Even though I wanted to stand by my beliefs, I couldn't help but wonder if this is how you fail at freelancing.

Let’s Talk About Turning Down Work

What I didn't know until I talked to my friend about this was that I'm not the only marketer that has this story. In fact, she immediately told me that she doesn't think I'm naive at all. She then recounted a story of her own. I started to ask other friends of mine in the business and they, too, had stories to share. Turns out, working in marketing while having a strong belief about the right and wrong way to earn money might just mean turning down about as much work as you accept.

Who knew?

Apparently everyone. I'm writing this, however, because maybe you've been in this position before and doubted yourself just like I did. I'm writing this because I think we should normalize the idea of turning down work for the kinds of companies we'd be ashamed to admit we work for. Thus, here is a eulogy to all the work I've turned down:

  • To the company that offered short-term loans with double-digit interest rates: I'm glad I said no, even if you were willing to give me the title of my dreams. Oh, and by the way, you're still a payday loan company even if you don't want to admit it.

  • To the company that makes money off of debt settlement: You offered some exciting work, but I'm not sorry I said no. Your services rarely give people what they need, and they charge for something people could do on their own for free. Thanks but no thanks.

  • To all the companies who claim to give people "financial freedom" or "financial education" but sell predatory financial products: You are many, and I'm happy to say no every time. You do you, boo, but I refuse to be a part of it.

If There’s Any Doubt, There Is No Doubt

I'm sure this won't be the last time I go through a situation like this, but I'm hoping it gets easier, not harder, to say no the next time it happens. I could try to blame it on the industry I work in, but the truth is there are FinTech companies who actually want to help people. At the end of the day, freelance contracts need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

And if you have to ask a friend if it's wrong to work for a certain company, you probably already know your answer.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash