Business Tips

How (and When) to Say No as a Freelance Pro

Hannah Curran
January 19, 2018

Knowing when to say no to certain assignments is the one of the most difficult – yet most essential – things for freelancers to learn how to do.The very nature of freelance work is its unpredictability. It's not always possible to plan on having X amount of work that will bring in Y amount of money. So as freelancers, it's natural for us to want to accept every assignment that comes our way. While it's a good idea to stay hungry and take on enough work that will provide for a secure, baseline income, there are times when it's right to say no. Here are some common scenarios.

When payment is promised for "later" ...

Don't get suckered into this situation. While new clients may be hesitant to pay you in full upfront, see if you can reach an agreement whereby you get, for example, 25% of the payment in advance. In any case, establish a contract. Or go through a third-party platform that will hold the payment securely until the project has been completed. Avoid working for free, unless it's a passion project or for a cause you believe in – but make it clear to yourself that you're doing volunteer work.

When endless revisions are requested ...

Or when the revisions process is not clearly defined. Again, create a contract with your client that will stipulate a revisions policy that is fair. If you don't, and especially if you've agreed to work for a set fee, what once might have seemed a good paycheck will turn into a trivial sum.

When clients keep asking for extras ...

You've established the terms of a project and agreed on a rate. But then your client keeps adding on requests without additional remuneration. This is called scope creep. Learn to spot it and avoid it. When a client asks for extras, propose a rate. Better yet, be the first to bring up the fact that you'll need to be compensated for additional work. Remember that when you're a freelancer, your time is money. Don't let your clients cut into it for free.

When you're simply too busy ...

Caveat: Consider the client first. If you've got too much on your plate, you can say no to less important clients. But you should never turn down work from important or dream clients. When you can't say no, try hiring a virtual assistant to help lessen the load.

When you're underpaid ...

Again, there may be times when it makes sense to work for less, such as for a passion project. But almost all of the time, it'll only hurt you. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see if your rates fall within industry standards. Talk to other freelancers. Do the research to make sure you're not being underpaid or you're charging too little for your work.

When your gut tells you no ...

Listen to your instincts. If a potential client inspires a sense of dread, say no. Remember that you're going to be interacting with clients frequently. If he or she is someone you feel you can't trust, listen to yourself. But if freelancing itself is what's giving you that dread, maybe it's time for some career advice.

When a client doesn't know what they want ...

And expects you to be a mind reader or come up with solutions to problems outside your area of expertise. This kind of client will drain your time and try your patience. But before you say no, tactfully suggest for them to revise the proposal and come back to you when they're ready.

When a client steals your work ...

Some unethical clients will set up a meeting, get your ideas, and then implement them without ever hiring or crediting you properly. Be vigilant. Ask potential clients to send a detailed budget and proposal and explain thoroughly what they need from you.In the long run, learning to say no will benefit your freelance career. When freelancers say "no" at the right moments, they end up earning the respect of current and potential clients. And if you're worried about finding clients when you do need more work, you can always try pitching your services on Fiverr.

Are you a freelancer? Have you ever benefitted from turning down assignments? How do you do so tactfully? Tell us in the comments below!

Hannah Curran
Hannah Curran is Fiverr's Social Media and Content Manager. Originally from Connecticut, she lives in California and works out of our San Francisco office. Have an idea for the Fiverr blog? Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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