How to Turn Down Freelance Work – The Art of Saying No

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Freelancing is about freedom – the ability to choose for yourself with whom, on what, and even when you would like to work. To fully enjoy that freedom, every freelancer should learn that saying no can sometimes be the best decision. But turning down a project is not an easy task! Learn when to say no at work and how to do it. 


Saying no to freelance work – Scenarios, Tips & Template:

  1. When to say no and turn down an offer
  2. Tips to say no politely to potential clients
    1. Identify pros and cons
    2. Thank the client
    3. Reasons for turning down
    4. Offer solutions alternatives
    5. Refer other freelancers
    6. Remain polite and professional
  3. TEMPLATE: E-Mail Template to reject a project

When should you say no and turn down a freelance project?

Deciding when exactly to say no is a big responsibility but is also a skill that needs to be mastered if you want to grow and succeed as a freelancer.

There are many reasons and scenarios that might make you take the decision. Here are the most common scenarios where you should say no. 

Say no to clients…

1) Say no to clients who constantly change the scope of work

This can be one of the worst and, unfortunately, too often experienced client behaviors. Negotiate beforehand just how many hours you are looking to put in for a client and make perfectly clear that overtime costs extra.

2) Say no to clients who are looking over your shoulder 

There are clients who think they can do your job better than you. They discuss and argue about every little detail, making you wonder why they hired someone in the first place. With all the time that goes into communication, explaining, and discussing, you are likely to end up doing double the amount of work – say no ASAP.

3) Say no to clients who insist on quantity over quality

These clients won’t respect your work or your ideas – they just want a bunch of bad-quality services delivered quickly. There’s absolutely no pleasure and little value in work of this kind.

Say no to projects…

4) Say no to projects which pay far below your usual hourly rate 

Even if clients promise long-term value, it is still a cause for major concern. First of all, you want to grow and not shrink your average hourly rate and profits. Secondly, the promises of building a lasting relationship with a client by doing projects for low rates often turn out to be empty.

5) Say no to projects which you would be embarrassed to put in your portfolio 

If a project is something that you are not willing to share with potential clients, why bother doing it? It probably doesn’t pay well, it isn’t something you will enjoy and won’t help you grow professionally or add to your skillset. There is plenty of fish in the sea – be confident enough in your own skillset to weed out the bad ones.

6) Say no to projects with an unprofessional description 

Avoid projects that are written with the grammar or vocabulary of a ten-year-old. Take the description of the project’s application for your services. If you feel like it is far below your professional standards, don’t apply or reject the job offer.

Few people realize just how important refusals are for freelancers and their businesses.

Say no to yourself…

7) Say no when you’re not going to be able to meet a deadline

It can be hard to admit to yourself that you won’t be able to accomplish something in time, especially as you gain confidence through successful projects in freelancing. But be realistic with yourself – too much on your plate means less free time, more stress and worse quality of work.

8) Say no if the work is beyond your skillset

If you’re not 100% sure that you’re up to par with a program, skill, or the type of work a client expects you to deliver, don’t fool yourself or them. Make a point of improving yourself in that particular area – WordPress or PHP for example, but don’t just take a job that you can’t complete in line with your freelancing standards. Doing the opposite can cause immense harm to your reputation. Completing a project that is out of scope will most certainly not help you reach your ultimate goal.

9) Say no when the job is not interesting to you

And last but most certainly not least, this tip might be the most valuable of them all. Remember why you started freelancing and don’t just do jobs to get by. Those are often a part of a freelancing career, but should never be its focus. Follow your passion and the results will reflect it. 

The art of saying no to clients the right way

Many freelancers would say: “When I say no I feel guilty”.

Can you relate to this too? It’s a pretty normal feeling. 

Saying no is a hard skill to master – especially if you are just starting out as a freelancer. 

Here are a few steps that will help you in the process of turning down freelance work:

1. Identify the pros and cons of taking on the project

Sometimes your gut feeling tells you that a project is bad. And that’s not a bad thing. Your initial reaction may often turn out to be right. But creating a safety mechanism for the times it’s not is as necessary as learning to trust yourself. 

So take half an hour and think about how a project aligns with your business – make a quick list of advantages and disadvantages.

  • Cons: Is the pay not good? Is the deadline too tight
  • Pros: Does working with this client open up doors for future opportunities? Does the work look great on your portfolio? Will the project hone your skills? 

Weigh the reasons out and keep the list – it’s going to be useful for the next step (and ultimately deciding whether or not you should reject the project).

2. Thank the client for picking you

Now that you’ve analyzed the project and have ultimately decided you will be turning it down, start by thanking the client by being kind and polite

Keep in mind, that this might be the first interaction you have with the client and the tone of that first call or email will influence your whole relationship. And think about it – the client went out of their way to reach out to you, out of hundreds of other freelancers who were suited for the job. That’s something that you should be genuinely thankful for. Let the client know.

Template text to thanking a client for a job opportunity

3. State your reasons for turning down the project clearly

For the next step, you need to be clear and upfront – why don’t you want to work on the project?

Do you have other projects lined up with quickly approaching deadlines? Then any client would understand if you tell them: “I’m committed to other projects right now and have a pretty full schedule”.

Other valid reasons include:

  • Overlapping deadlines
  • Overwhelming workload
  • An offer that is above/below your level of expertise
  • Too low hourly rate 

Once you’ve identified the reasons for rejecting the project, it’s time to communicate them to the client. They may be willing to compromise on some things and meet you halfway if they really want you on board. That’s when you look at the list of pros and cons again. This time considering new conditions.

Even if the reason is low pay, don’t be afraid to communicate that. Maybe the client didn’t do their research and is more than happy to pay your expected fee as long as you propose it. 

Although it sounds a bit cliché, honesty truly is the best policy when saying no as it often helps you work out a mutually beneficial solution.

4. Offer solutions to make it work

Sometimes clients won’t go out of their way to search for a compromise. If that turns out to be the case, you can offer them an alternative yourself. 

For example: 

Text template to negociate project scope and project budget

Sometimes this tactic will work, sometimes it won’t. When it doesn’t, you get your network to work. This leads us to the next step.

5. Refer a colleague or freelancer

Refer the client to another freelancer you know and is right for the job – that way you do both sides a favor and can strengthen the relationship while still saying no to the project.

It shows the client you care about the project, that you have a good network, and are open to help. The other freelancer will also certainly remember the time you helped them out and are very likely to pay it back. It’s a win-win-win situation, really.

6. Remain polite and professional

Last but not least, it is important to turn down offers in a polite manner. Think about how it feels to never hear back from a client regarding a project you applied to. It’s always nice to receive valuable feedback as to why you may not have been selected, and what they were looking for instead. 

It’s the same for clients. Potentially losing future opportunities because you were too lazy to type out complete and polite sentences is simply not worth it.

Remember that the ways to say no are just as important as knowing when to do it.  

Email template to Turn Down a Freelance Project

It’s possible to say no to a freelance project without burning a bridge for future opportunities. 

You have learned some ways to say no to projects and clients in a polite manner and now you just need a template that you can easily use if and when the moment comes.

Here is our proposed email template turning down a client while offering an alternate freelancer in place: 

“Hello [Client name],

Thank you for reaching out to me! I really appreciate you considering my profile for this [XXX] project. It sounds very interesting!

Unfortunately due to [insert reason], I don’t think I would be rightly suited to working on this project right now. 

As a way of thanks for your consideration, I’d like to suggest alternative freelancers that I believe might be a better fit. They all are excellent at what they do and would really be able to compliment [project] quite well. 
[Insert Freelancers and a short intro on why you recommend them]

I’m confident in their abilities and can assure you that you can’t go wrong picking any of them. 

I hope these recommendations have been helpful and I would greatly appreciate being kept in mind for future projects that I may be right for. 

Thanks again for getting in touch,

Freelancer”

With this email, you’re saying no politely to the client and you are helping them out! 

Having an email template that you can use and personalize in just a few emails can be very helpful. Your potential client will know that you care about them and if another opportunity comes up, they are more likely to refer back to you.   

Have you ever had to reject a project or a client? What made you say no? We would love to know your story so please feel free to leave us a comment below!

Seeking new interesting projects? Join freelancermap.com for free, create your freelancer profile and get connected with clients at zero commission fees!

Natalia Campana

Natalia is part of the international team at freelancermap. She loves the digital world, social media and meeting different cultures. Before she moved to Germany and joined the freelancermap team she worked in the US, UK and her home country Spain. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com

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