Lessons in saying no to work you don’t want

One of the first lessons you’re taught when you start planning to work for yourself is to expect feast and famine. When you’re starting out, periods of ‘Please god, someone help me with all this work’ and others of ‘Oh look, more tumbleweed rolling gently past my bank account’ aren’t just to be expected, they’re practically a given. Unfortunately, the result of such bipolar work patterns can be a tendency to take on every smidgen of work you are offered, whether you really want it and whether it’s a good match for your skill set or not.

Learning to say no to work that isn’t right for you is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to learn to do when working for yourself. It goes against everything we’re taught about hustling hard but in the long run, turning away work is pretty unavoidable if you’re going to be successful.

Here are our lessons in saying no, because turning down the stuff you don’t want to do leaves you free to do the stuff you do want to do and to do it well.

Indirectly help them anyway

Whilst you may have decided that a prospective client isn’t a good fit for you, it’ll do your reputation a world of good if you try and help them anyway. If their budget doesn’t quite match your fees, refer them to that freelancer friend who is charging less as they’re just starting out. If they’re looking for someone to manage their social media but you just don’t have the time to take on another client, try going back to them with an offer to put together a monthly plan of posts for them to upload themselves instead. Be kind and helpful regardless and you’ll be the first person that comes to mind when that project with a bigger budget or a friend needing recommendations does arise.

Don’t burn your bridges

Even if you don’t ever want to work with a particular client, for ethical reasons say, be careful not to burn your bridges with a hasty or harsh response. If your reputation was good enough for them to approach you in the first place, they may still recommend you to others. Don’t be afraid to bend the truth a bit by simply saying you’re fully booked instead of turning them down flat.

Offer an Option B

So, you can’t help a client with their Option A, but could you offer them an Option B that works for both parties instead? If a request has come from a client that you’d love to work with but you just don’t have the capacity in your diary right now, don’t be afraid to ask whether there is any wiggle room on the deadline. If they really want to work with you, the chances are they’ll be happy to stretch things. Alternatively, could you help with other tasks that wouldn’t demand such a time commitment? It’s all about coming across as accommodating and helpful.

Have no regrets

Saying no in those feast times has a habit of playing on your conscience during times of famine. Would you still be struggling to make ends meet now if you’d have taken on that client you didn’t really want? Should you have accepted that project and just done a ‘decent enough’ job to keep the bank topped up? Turning away work as a freelancer isn’t easy but you have to trust your gut, make your decision, say no politely and move on without regret. After all, you’re in this for the long haul.

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