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 am feeling overwhelmed, and stressed about my work, or my life, my husband reminds me 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?

One of the reasons that I find it hard to say no sometimes is that I don’t want to turn down the work. 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 a graphic designer, writer, or software coder, 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 Yahoo! Voices) 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 any work.

Saying yes becomes a habit. Additionally, freelancing is a balancing act. What happens if you lose a client one month, or a project comes to an end? You want to have work ready to replace it, and pick up the slack. 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 that you don’t have to dip into it on the bad months.

At some point, though, you need to learn to say no. If you want to maintain your sanity, saying no is a must, and I’ve learned to turn down jobs when I feel like it’s becoming too much. I am blessed right now 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. I have been lucky in that I have only had to engage in revisions three or four times in my entire career. However, I know that there are some freelancers that are asked to revise regularly. I understand that freelance designers even have a certain number of revisions built right 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. I think of it more as a value-add. I tell clients that I will try to submit (I don’t guarantee that I’ll get to it). I do have some clients that 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, though, who outright charge for social media submissions. I don’t have a problem with that; in fact, 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 the carnival submission process, will you lose a paying customer? If you say no to one more little tiny tweak to a design, will you end up client-less? There’s a fine line to walk, and you have to be willing to lose that client if feel strongly about standing your ground.

It’s OK to Say No

The bottom line, though, is that it’s ok to say no. If you don’t feel that 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 he or she doesn’t agree that your extra work should be rewarded with extra pay.

Image source: Platonides via Wikimedia Commons

0 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.

  2. Brent Pittman

    One way to avoid saying no is to raise your prices significantly, so even if they agree you’ll be compensated handsomely.

    If time is an issue, then of course refer the client you’re too busy for to another struggling freelancer.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I’m thinking of raising my rates again, for new clients. We’ll see. But I do have a rotating list of freelancers that I refer work to. (Let me know if you want me to add you.)

      1. Hi, Miranda: (and Brent)

        How do you go about referring clients. Do you charge a flat fee, charge a percentage of the project amount? Or how you do personally do it.

        Would love to hear more.

        1. Brent Pittman

          I agree with Miranda. Just make a referral to a good writer who will service your client. They’ll both thank you and the writer will be a new raving fan.

          Missy, if you’re having too much overflow, then you’re charging too little for your service. It’s might be time for an across the board price increase.

  3. You are so right. But you need to do it. When you’re overworked your work can go stale. When you are interested and excited about your work, it shows in your writing.

    It’s tough to say no, but practice saying yes to the work that is stimulating instead.

  4. Mike Collins

    Knowing when to say new to a new project is important. There are only so many hours in the day and if you bite off more then you can chew all your work will suffer and no one will be happy.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      That’s true. And no one being happy includes your family as well. One of my wake up calls was when I realized I was still working a lot when my son got home from school. What? Working from home was supposed to make it easier for me to spend time with him. Saying no really helped free up more family time.

  5. I think this is a good problem to have, yet it is still a problem. And needs to be managed accordingly. I too am in the same boat and need to turn down clients, but don’t particularly like or want to. But it’s getting to the point, where there simply is not enough time in the day to take them all on.

    As you mentioned above, it’s either take on another client or LIVE your life.

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