Learning to Say No as a Freelancer

After years of scraping by on anything, it's hard to learn to say no as a freelancer.

Occasionally, when I feel overwhelmed and stressed about my work or life, I remind myself that sometimes I need to say no. I think that there are a lot of reasons that we say yes in life and in work. But, as a freelancer, it can be difficult to learn to say no.

Do You Really Want to Turn Down Work?

As a freelancer, making sure you have work is paramount. It's hard to turn down work, no matter how overwhelmed I am. Even if I don't need the work, and even if my plate is full, I still find it hard to say no to a new project or to a new client. This is because I spent years struggling and grateful for every job I could land — no matter how small.

Starting out as a freelancer can be difficult, especially when you work online. As graphic designers, writers, or software coders, many freelancers have to make names for themselves online. When I first started, I wrote 500-word keyword articles for $5 – $10 a pop. I thought I had hit the jackpot when Associated Content (now defunct) started paying me a little bit more for my pieces. Plus, I could submit those whenever I wanted! When you're struggling to pay the rent, it feels foolish to turn down any work.

Yes is a Habit: Learn to Say No as a Freelancer

Saying yes becomes a habit for many freelancers. What happens if you lose a client one month? How about when a project comes to an end? You want to have work ready to replace it. So you say yes. Even if you're overwhelmed.

Budgeting as a freelancer isn't easy, especially when you're the primary breadwinner. You bank the extra money on the good months and hope you don't have to dip into it on the bad ones.

At some point, though, you need to learn to say no to additional work. It's hard to turn down freelance work, but sometimes it must be done. If you want to maintain your sanity, saying no is a must. I've learned to turn down jobs when I feel like it's becoming too much. I'm lucky to be in a position where I can say no if I don't like the project, if the rate isn't high enough, or if I just feel like I want a little more time in my life to actually live.

Saying No to Client Requests

Another difficulty is saying no to client requests. This can be even harder than turning down new work.

Luckily, I don't often need to make revisions. However, I know that some freelancers are asked to revise regularly. I understand that freelance designers even have a certain number of revisions built into their pricing. But, even then, there comes a time when you have to say “enough is enough.” How many revisions does something need to go through?

My difficulty comes more in saying no to things I find tedious. Even though I'm not a big fan of submitting to social media bookmarking sites, I try to submit most of what I write somewhere. It's a value-add. I tell clients I will try to submit it (I don't guarantee I'll get to it).

I have some clients who pay me extra to guarantee submissions, though. And there are days when I'm tempted to just tell everyone that I'm not submitting to social media: I'm a writer for heaven's sake. There is a growing niche of writers who outright charge for social media submissions. I don't have a problem with that. Sometimes, it makes me think that maybe it's time to say no a little more to some of the free services I occasionally offer.

But lurking behind the idea of saying no to client requests is the fear that the client will drop you. If you say no to what seems like a small request, will you lose a paying customer? There's a fine line to walk; you must be willing to lose that client if you feel strongly about standing your ground.

It's OK to Say No

The bottom line is that it's ok to say no. If you don't feel you can handle more work, or if what you are being asked to do makes you uncomfortable, say no. If you have progressed to the point where you are in a position to be choosier about your clients, you can even start saying no to doing things you don't particularly enjoy doing — as long as you are truly able to avoid losing that client if they don't agree that your extra work should be rewarded with extra pay.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Say No as a Freelancer”

  1. I was just thinking about this topic today, as I’m re-evaluating my freelancing schedule. I found myself saying YES to everything, and becoming extremely overwhelmed. A good wake-up call for me is when I start hating or procrastinating work. That’s not me at all, so when that happens I know I’m taking on too much or not taking on the right projects. I think just as important to say NO to clients/jobs as it is to say YES. Both should be clearly lined up (or not) with your “checklist” or mantra statement.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      Great point! When you start saying “I’ll do it some other time,” or if you find yourself dreading emails from a client, or having to do certain work, it’s time to re-evaluate.

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