How to Say No to a Freelance Client (Without Burning Any Bridges)

How to Say No to a Freelance Client (Without Burning Bridges)

How to Say No to a Freelance Client (Without Burning Bridges)

Do you find it hard to say no to a freelance client?

You're not the only one!

Many freelancers find it hard to say no when offered a new opportunity, even if it means making a sacrifice to fit in their schedule. As a result, they tend to feel overworked and stressed out.

Learning to pass up work and other opportunities isn't easy, but you'll feel better for it. In this article, we'll cover why you should say no more often and how to do it in a positive way.

There's a lot to cover, but if you want to skip around, feel free to use the table of contents below.

Now, let's dive in!

No Isn't a Dirty Word

Here's the thing; no isn't a dirty word.

It may feel counterintuitive to say no to a potential freelance client or gig, especially when it has the potential to make you money. But, there are only so many hours in a day.

As a freelancer, you have to learn how to prioritize your time — something I'm still learning even three and a half years in.

Earlier this summer, I attended a virtual summit that had some really amazing speakers. One of them said something that resonated with me so much, and I want to share it with you too.

Every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else.

It's okay to:

  • be picky about the projects you take on and the clients you work with.
  • say no to people who ask you to coffee in hopes of picking your brain.
  • wait until your regular work hours to respond to an email or call a client back.
  • take a break to regroup and rest so you can come back stronger.

Saying no more often frees you up to say yes to other important things. It also helps you establish healthy boundaries for yourself and your clients.

When to Say No to a Freelance Client

I'm just going to say it:

Not every client is the right client for you, and not every project is the right project.

As a freelancer, it can feel downright icky to decline work. I mean, you're trying to pay your bills, right? But, the beauty of freelancing is that you can be selective about the work you take on.

While it may seem counterintuitive to pass up a work opportunity, it's important to consider more than your bottom line.

Below are some of the reasons you may want to tell a freelance client no.

1. You Don't Have the Time

We live in a society where hustling (aka constantly working) is the path to success. It means the majority of your time is spent working in or on your business. Everything else takes a back burner.

While some hustling is required when starting a business, it's not the only way to succeed. Thinking we have to hustle day in and day out is not only crazy but it can also do some major damage to your mental health.

Hustle culture goes hand-in-hand with burnout, and that feeling is especially prevalent among freelancers.

According to Freelancer Map, “Being overloaded and overbooked with work is one of the prime causes why freelancers feel burned out.”

Burnout comes with a wide range of symptoms, some of which include:

  • Procrastination
  • Reduced productivity
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains

With symptoms like that, it begs the question: Why add more to your plate when you're already feeling overwhelmed?

You need to be honest with yourself about how much work you can take on. When a new gig presents itself, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you struggling to keep up with your existing workload?
  • Do you feel like the quality of your work is slipping?
  • Are you finding it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you have trouble getting your workday started?

If you say yes to these questions, it's probably best to say no to a new project or client for the time being.


Related: How to Outsource Work as a Freelancer


2. They Can't Afford Your Rate

One of the things many new freelancers struggle with is knowing what to charge. Most freelancers just starting out are more than willing to take on work for very little pay because their focus is on building up their portfolio and gaining experience. And that's totally okay.

As time goes on, you'll figure out what your time is worth and be able to establish your ideal rates. Not only will you be able to make more money, but you'll be able to weed out clients who may not be the best fit for you.

There will be times when a new or existing client can't quite afford your rate. Unless it's your dream project or a client you've been dying to work with, don't feel obligated to discount your services.

3. You Don't Click With the Client

Although you're providing a client with a service, you are not their employee. It's a business partnership. So, there needs to be mutual respect and understanding.

I'm not saying you have to be besties with your freelance clients, but if they're throwing up red flags, it's a sign that they may be more trouble than it's worth.

Some warning signs watch out for include:

  • Bad communication
  • Constant scope creep
  • Unrealistic timelines
  • Rudeness

Whether it's a long-time client or a potential client, always listen to your gut. If something feels off, it probably is.

Turning down the project or cutting ties with an existing client can save you a major headache down the road.

4. If You Don't Feel Good About the Work

If you're approached about taking on a gig that doesn't interest you, turn it down. Taking on a project that you find boring or tedious is only going to annoy you. More importantly, you're more likely to not give it the attention it deserves. Turning in lackluster work can be harmful to your business and is completely unfair to the client.

You should also turn down work if you feel uncomfortable, it doesn't align with your values, or goes against your brand message.

Remember, you're in control of who you work with and what you work on.

The Art of Saying No to a Freelance Client

So, how do you say no without disappointing a client — or worse, burning a bridge?

It's all in the delivery.

Express Gratitude for the Opportunity

You may be saying no, but that doesn't mean you aren't grateful for the offer.

Thanking the client for the opportunity lets them know that you appreciate the time they took to look at your portfolio and vetting your work. Say something like, “Thank you so much for thinking of me! I really appreciate you reaching out about this opportunity.”

Tell Them Why

While you don't have to go into detail about why you're rejecting a prospective client, you should offer a brief explanation.

Too busy? Say something like, “Thank you for the offer, but unfortunately I don't have room in my schedule for this project at this time.”

Keep it short and sweet.

This should go without saying but never ghost a potential client if you don't plan to accept the work — especially if you've been communicating back and forth for a while. This reflects badly on your business, and it's just plain rude.

Make a Referral

Just because the work wasn't right for you doesn't mean it's not for another freelancer. Reach out to your network of freelancer friends or post about the job in a freelancing Facebook group to see if anyone is interested in taking on the project.

When turning down the prospective client, share a list of potential freelancers they can contact. Providing them with some warm leads will help soften the blow and gives you a chance to support your fellow freelancers.

Parting Thoughts

Rejecting potential clients and work may not be the most comfortable feeling in the world, but sometimes it's necessary. Being honest with yourself will help you gauge whether or not you have the capacity or desire to take on the work. If the answer is no, be sure to follow the tips above to gracefully decline.

If you're saying no this time around but are open to future offers, tell that to the client you'd like to keep in touch. You can even send them a connection on LinkedIn or social media so you can stay up to date about what they have going on. Just don't forget to check in every once in a while, even if it's as simple as commenting on a blog or social media post.

I hope you found this article on how to say no to freelance work helpful! You may also want to check out these guides on how to free up more time as a freelancer and getting more done while working from home.

By Katie Jenison

Katie Jenison is a freelance writer offering copywriting, blogging, and ghostwriting services. She works closely with home builders, remodelers, interior designers, real estate and property management professionals to help them create content marketing strategies, improve their digital presence, generate leads, and engage with their target audience. Katie also helps freelance writers and creative entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of working from home by providing tips and advice, business strategies, and writing tips on her blog, The Quiet Type. Download her free workbook, A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates, here.

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