Freelance Career / Tips

Say 'No' Like A Pro: Turning Down A Client Politely

. 5 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Say 'No' Like A Pro: Turning Down A Client Politely

Becoming a freelancer is a lengthy process. Building contacts and hunting for work can take some time and patience. It is possible that many freelancers have, for the sake of building their portfolio, taken up work that they didn’t want to. It’s okay to take up a couple of odd projects every now and then, but it’s important to learn to say ‘no’ to work that will not help you carve your niche or get you more money in the long run.

Declining work or turning down a client can feel difficult. You may feel like you’re turning down an opportunity to make money, but saying ‘yes’ to work only for the sake of money won’t always be beneficial. Emotional dissatisfaction aside, doing a project half-heartedly can affect your output and would likely add no value to your portfolio.

So, when is it okay to turn down a client?

  1. When you have too much on your plate. When you’re stretched too thin – in terms of time, resources, or mental capacity – it’s okay to say no. 
  2. The work doesn’t interest you. You’re going to be spending a significant amount of time on this project. Are you willing to spend weeks working on something that doesn’t interest you or add to your learnings? If not, it’s okay to turn it down.
  3. Their budget is too low. Every freelancer has a working rate, and many clients are looking to get their work done with as little money as possible. You want to pick projects that allow you to play by your strengths in some capacity, and picking anything and everything that comes your way may not be the best idea. It may seem silly to give up a project, but if they’re not willing to meet at least 70% of your quoted rate, it’s okay to turn down a client.
  4. The client doesn’t seem enthusiastic about the project. Sometimes, clients may come to you with a project and not have specific timelines or details. They may also give vague responses to your queries. In this case, it’s possible that they will drag you along for a project for weeks or months and suddenly drop it, and you may not have anything to show for the time you’ve spent on the project. If your client doesn’t seem involved or interested in the project, you shouldn’t be either.
  5. The client is difficult. If the client is being unreasonable in terms of expectations, pay, or deadlines and isn’t willing to understand your process, it’s okay to turn down the project.

How to turn down a freelance project politely

The above is not an exhaustive list of reasons why you should turn down a project. You could have your own reasons, but many freelancers may struggle to turn down clients in a way that doesn’t harm their working relationship or their rapport. Now that you’ve decided your reason, here’s how you can turn down a client gracefully.

Be honest about what you want out of the project

You can be honest about how your skillset doesn’t match the client’s requirements. Tell them, in a straightforward way, that you are looking for different types of projects to sharpen your skills, and that this project may not help you in the future. This may lead to your client approaching you with projects that are more up your alley.

Refer them to another freelancer

If you think that the project doesn’t suit your skillset or your goals as a freelancer, a good way to turn down a project is to refer the client to another freelancer who you think fits the bill. This will not only give the client another lead, but will also help you build a rapport with the other freelancer who will return the favour in the future.

Offer another solution

If you’re turning down a project from a client you’ve worked with previously, it’s a good idea to provide them with some resources. You can direct them to a site that provides them with the necessary resources to do the project in-house, or you could direct them to someone who would be willing to do the project at a lower cost. A lead will never go unappreciated.

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Quote a high rate

This is a tactic that works often. Quote a price you’re sure the client won’t be able to match. They may try to negotiate with you, but you can be firm about your rate. Quoting a high rate is an effective way to weed out several sub-par projects or low-paying clients that might come your way as a freelancer.

Inform them about your schedule

If you can’t take up a project because you’re stretched too thin, let them know what time frame works best for you. If they are willing to push the project or make necessary arrangements, you don’t have to turn them down!

List the resources you’d need to complete the project

Some clients can be ambitious; that may not work for you. If you are willing to take up the project but under certain conditions, do let your client know. Tell them what conditions work for you and how you’d be able to complete the project. If they are willing to meet your needs, you don’t have to turn down the project. If not, your work is done.

A few things to keep in mind when turning down a client: 

  1. Thank them for the offer. This one’s a given – politeness never hurts!
  2. Respond promptly. Don’t wait too long if you’re going to turn them down.
  3. Practice good communication. Don’t be rude, or give them ultimatums. Be firm but professional.

Turning down work as a freelancer isn’t always easy, given the sporadic manner in which projects come and go. But it’s important to look for projects that help you meet your creative or financial goals. Your portfolio should speak of all the projects you are proud of, and keeping the above-mentioned points in mind, you’ll learn to weed out the projects that don’t work for you. Got any tips on how to turn down or negotiate projects with clients? Let us know in the comments below!

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