A friend recently asked me for advice on handling requests from people who either want him to participate in a project, or want to license his IP for their projects. Here’s a generalized version of my advice.
The first step is to think about what categories the proposed projects fall into, and assess each, looking at these factors:
1) Is this a category of thing that appeals to you, and hopefully a significant portion of your fans?
2) Have you recently done something else in this category, or have something pending or ongoing in this category, and therefore don’t need another one that is so similar?
3) Are the people approaching you capable professionals, with experience in that category, who can do justice to the project?
4) Will the project associate you with other brands/products, and are they ones you want to be associated with?
If a project passes this initial “is it generally a good idea” bar, then you get to dive into a further assessment:
1) Does the project provide enough financial or promotional benefit to be a good use of your time? (If a project is tiny, it had better be a tiny time-commitment, too!)
2) Is the financial proposal fair to both parties? (You want everyone involved to be getting the proper incentives).
If you’ve gotten that far, and still want to say “yes”, there you go! Make sure to get everything written down, and signed, and then you’ll have less trouble down the road.
On the other hand, sometimes you really need to turn someone down. And that will eat up not just some of your time, but also emotional energy figuring out how to communicate with them. It could also cost you some good will, if they get bent out of shape that you didn’t jump into their project. But you can’t let that sway you into doing a project if it’s not a good fit.
It can be useful to have someone – an agent or business manager – who can say “no” for you, so you (the talent) aren’t the one turning people down. You want to have the luxury of being nice, and saying, “gosh, we’ll look at that, but my business manager knows what my schedule is, and what other projects and contractual obligations I have, so I can’t just say yes”. Then you pass the person along to your representative, and you’re not the one who rejected them. People may start approaching your agent instead of you. Depending on how you set up the relationship there, you can either have them pass everything through to you for approvals, or give them guidelines, and let them screen out the people who are definitely not a good fit without taking up any of your time.
If you can’t rope somebody else into being your filter or hatchet person, you can still have responses ready to hand, starting with a simple, “No, but thank you for asking.” If you must give more detail, stick with “My schedule is quite full, so I wouldn’t be able to put in the time this would require” or “I’m committed to a number of projects already, and some of them would overlap too closely with this”. There’s never a reason to say, “oh lord, your thing looks awful” or “it sounds like you’re expecting me to do all the work”. 😉
I have learned to stay as straightforward as possible when saying “no”. If you give someone a detailed reason, that can push them into sales mode, where they will try to “answer your objections”. That in turn can lead to protracted back-and-forth, and more potential for people’s feelings to get hurt. Keep it simple and firm, and make sure you’re respecting your own time.