Saying No To Freelance Work

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How I changed my habit of saying YES to every job and why I’m happier for it. 


One of the worse things about being a freelancer is undoubtedly feeling as though you HAVE to take on work.  There’s something about saying no to freelance work (especially when you’re not sure where your next paycheque is coming from) that can leave even the most hardened freelancer feeling uneasy.  But using the default response of, “Sure, I’ll get that to you by tomorrow,” leads to long-term negative consequences not just for the clients but for yourself.

I find that taking on too much work can lead to feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, guilty, frustrated, and resentful which, as with too much of anything eventually starts to take its toll.  

A few years ago this was me. I was so swamped with doing work just because I wanted a bit of money in the bank that I was miserable, unproductive and actually lacked motivation to do anything at all. It caused rows with my then boyfriend and I thought about chucking the towel in and just taking any office job I could find on an hourly basis. But then I had a lightbulb moment and I did the unthinkable, I started to say NO when approached for work. It wasn’t an easy decision or easy to actually follow through with but after I took a bit of time out to start thinking about what it was I actually wanted to do and what people I wanted to work with, saying no was the only option and it totally changed the way I felt about work. Not to mention it having a positive effect on the finances too!

By freeing myself of the pressure of just saying yes to everything, I actually started to feel better about myself and my own skills. For me saying no was the perfect way to define who I was, what I was good at and where I wanted to go. It also helped me turn my back on small, unprofitable jobs that just caused me to stress out and feel negative to working with clients I loved and to take on jobs that I earned a decent living from.

There are WAY too many freelancers out there are willing to accept low fees or harsh terms and conditions because they don’t feel that saying NO is an option. But that’s something that needs to stop – for everyones sake.

So how do you say NO to work as a freelancer?

  • Set yourself ground rules. Ground rules really are the linchpin of any successful business – regardless of the size. I worked out what my rules for working were – how much I valued my time, how much I was worth, what kind of clients was I interested in working with and what payment terms was I willing to accept. Once I’d sorted all those details it suddenly become a lot easier to net my ideal clients.
  • Only accept job invitations via email. YES it is great being the go-to gal for jobs and hearing the sound of a ringing phone but if potential clients want to work with you and have to put it in writing then you not only get to see what the job entails in black and white but you also have time to think about whether you want to take on the job. It’s usually a lot harder to say no when you’re on the phone.
  • Trust your gut instinct. Start trusting yourself, if a client sounds a bit dodgy or you don’t think you’re getting the full story about the job then don’t feel bad for saying no. Gut instinct is rarely wrong and if you feel a bit icky about a situation it won’t nurture your best work.
  • Don’t negotiate on your price. You’ve set your price now stick to it. A lot of freelancers find it difficult to separate needing work and knowing their worth. If a potential client claims that they can’t afford your price then you need to gently let them go.
  • Stop trying to be everything to everyone. You can’t do everything, no matter how brilliant you are at your job. Recognise it and if a brief comes in that has elements that you KNOW aren’t in your remit, either have the budget to outsource or pass the job on. You’ll be happier in the long run because no good comes from frantically trying to do something that you know nothing about.

The bottom line is that it’s OK to say NO. If you’re not sure you can handle more work, if you don’t like what you’re being asked to do or you just don’t like your client – the solution is simple – just say no. 

Here are some scripts you may like to use when saying NO. After all you don’t want to offend or put people off coming back to you if they have a project further down the line.

Last Minute Work:

I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to other _________ (coworkers, clients, etc.) to complete their projects today. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through on what I said I would do. I will be sure to fit this in as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding.

Short Deadline:

I know this project is a high priority for you, and if it’s absolutely necessary for me to turn something in by that date, I can make it happen. But if I could have a few more _________ (days, weeks, etc.), I could really deliver something of higher quality. Would it be possible for me to have a bit more time?


Author: Rachael

I'm a journalist and creative consultant. I write about how busy women (just like you) can live, work and eat - better.

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