Work in Progress: Getting back up after you've "lost"

Photography by  Donny Zavala Photography

Last time, I wrote about dealing with fear and how important it is to take a step, no matter how small it is. Unfortunately, no matter how much you prepare and practice, most risks end up in failure and it's so far from fun. I believe one of the main reasons it's so hard for everyone to say "no" is because we're a little to familiar with how rejection feels. Having my own business means I have to face many rejections; small and big, financially or due to creative difference. I went from getting SO EXCITED for inquiries to expecting no answer for most of my initial replies. Sometimes, I'm really good at brushing all those rejections off. But with how social media is, it's so easy to know who you "lost" to. And no matter how much I respect and love those creatives, I hate losing and then I hate myself for being all worked up about it. So instead of being all gloomy and unproductively envious of other's success (they do deserve to flaunt their hard work), I tried to assess why I lost projects.

The last few audio-books I've listened to told me to start with "why" and finish with "how". Why did I lose those projects and how can I improve my outcome? First, I notice there are few common reasons for my rejections. They are pricing, style, and time. If you ever have to deal with any of those (or all), keep reading and I might have some tips so you can get over your rejections a little bit faster. Sometimes you need more reasoning other than "things are meant to happen" so I'll try to show you how to correctly assess "losing". We'll discuss how to count your blessings (it's holiday seasons after all), and what steps you need to take in the future. And surprisingly, the answer can sometimes be to lose even more projects (so you better get used with this feeling fast!). Let's get going!


Photography by  Donny Zavala Photography

Since my livelihood depends on commission work, this is the most common reason I've "lost" a project. I've lost count on how many times I never heard back after sending price-list or estimates. The hours spent on those email threads/phone conference/estimates that end no where, and how many times I've received a reply along the lines of, "I love your work, it's exactly what we're looking for but in MUCH cheaper price range". 

Having no projects and seeing how busy everyone is on social media sucks. Same is having no or little sales during Holiday Seasons and seeing the opposite on Instagram. On this note, I'd like to thank everyone who ever purchase my product, especially during my Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales, for sparing me from feeling like the one kid who's not invited to the birthday party. It is so tempting to give in and offer lower prices or discounts just so I can be busy and have more orders. But I'm also trying to have a sustainable business and this race to the bottom won't help me achieve that goal in the long run. All I need is one person who's willing to pay the price I'm asking for to prove that I'm worth my price tag. As long as I can find that right client, I can keep on swimming and resist lowering my fee.

But, that doesn't help me from being mildly to extremely annoyed when I see who I lost a project too. I feel like a horrible person to harbor such jealousy. When that happens, I ask myself a few questions.. "Am I willing to take that job for a lower amount that I'm asking for? Was it only my greed and pride that cost me this particular project?". So I analyze the amount of time and work I would need for that project at the "desired" price point and decide if I'm willing to adjust. Usually the answer is no.

For example, I lost a project that consisted of a Save the Date along with an Invitation suite with addressing for 150 sets simply because I'm not willing to lower my quote. Or another one where I was contacted to provide my service for free in exchange for press and publication. There's many that I've lost because I couldn't give additional discounts in exchange for a professional photographer and social media buzz. With that said, I am happy when my potential clients are able to get what they want in their asking price from another calligrapher, although, it still irks me whenever I see a post from those projects. Even though I understand how much work either of those projects will take and how much of an "investment" they would be from my end had I taken the project.

Usually, asking if I really want to take the project by sacrificing my pay is good enough for me to move on. "But what if I still feel hurt along with a bit of jealousy when this happens?", you ask. In that case, I'll ask myself, are there projects that I'm currently working on that I have to give up? If I actually don't have to give up another project, it's safe to say I should lower the price in the future. But if I do need to make a Sophie's choice, would I rather have the project I lost or lose the project I currently have? Since we're focusing on pricing, which client is willing to pay me for what I am worth? If I still really, really want the project, then it's time to suck it up and sacrifice in the future. Because my competition sacrifices some of their profit for the perks, so will I if I want the same benefit.


Photography by  Donny Zavala Photography

The next most common reasons is "we're looking for someone with a different style". I usually get this response for creative projects such as styled shoots or branding projects. For styled shoots, rejections come at the very beginning and very end. Anywhere from loosely talking about participating in a shoot and realizing the team decided to go with another calligrapher, to the slew of rejections from wedding publications you're aiming for! Neither one feels any better than being rejected for financial reasons. 

As you can probably guess, I'm not super excited about losing a styled shoot gig to other calligraphers especially when it ended up being published in a big blog or even, a magazine. When I got rejected from the dream publication, it's little hard to see all the gorgeous projects that do get published at first. Obviously, I eventually move on from this grumpy mood and ask myself a few questions to move on a little bit faster.

First, I always ask if the requested "style" is something I can actually do, and if it's something I can actually do better than my competitors. If yes, I don't fuss about it since I'll land the right team/client/publication sooner or later. If not, this rejection is expected and I need to practice some more. 

For publications that want a different "style", are their readers looking for my look and the shoot's style? If not, this is probably for the best. If they are, is this particular shoot on par with the rest of their publication? If not, time to find a better team and make sure I can carry my own weight. If it's excellent quality, time to hit other publications!


Photography by  Donny Zavala Photography

Lastly, the most common reason I don't get a project is time! Granted, it's not exactly "rejection" per se. I still have the same negative voices in my head from losing and being reminded that I lost the project. Although, instead of just trying to quickly silent my negative thoughts, I figure I'd rather turn those voices into something useful. I use this opportunity to assess how good (or horrible) I am with my time management skills.

First, I have to clearly assessed the timeline given for those projects. Did I lose the project due to it's impossible timeline (something along the lines of "I need an invitation suite for a styled shoot within 3 days and overnight shipping to Paris!") or is it because I've been thoroughly booked and overworked? For those projects where the deadline is "yesterday", there really isn't much I can do. If not, I have to assess the projects that occupy my time instead. Am I more satisfied with my current projects financially and creatively or am I giving up a golden opportunity due to my intense schedule? If I'm regretting my current schedule because I'm missing out on opportunity that I would dream to have, it's time to re-read my "saying no" blog and be even more strict on what projects I take in the future.

In the end of the day, it's practically impossible to never lose a project or to work on everything that come through the door. It's never a fun being reminded of the projects that got away and social media means these reminders come often. Sometimes, it's okay to listen to your "Negative Nancy" thoughts when this happens! But instead of being petty, filled with jealousy, or plotting a Game of Throne style revenge plan; use this as opportunity to look inward and assess how satisfied you are with your pricing, creative direction, and time management. Slow down, honestly reflect where you are and where you hope to be, and plan accordingly!

Like always, I love hearing your stories! I love knowing I'm not the only one dealing with this! So hit me up in the comments below, shoot me an email, chat with me on Instagram, or even send me snail mail of your disappointment stories and how you deal with them! 

Much love,


Photography by Donny Zavala Photography | Floral by Lavenders Flowers | Silk by Tono and Co | Calligraphy and Paper Goods by Seniman Calligraphy | Rentals by Etablir Shop| Hair and Make Up by Hikari Murakami | Veil and Silk Robe by Claire la Faye | Wedding Dress by Rose and Delilah | Jewelry By Angeline | Model Nikki and Ishaan

Photography by  Donny Zavala Photography