Learning how to say ‘no’ is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn to do in my freelance business.

As a freelancer, it’s a survival instinct to say, ‘yes’ to every client, every request and every chance to earn a living and grow your business.

BUT – being a yes man or lady, has been the downfall to many freelancers.

I’m going to start with giving you a couple of scenarios I’m sure we’ve all been in by saying ‘yes’ when really we should have said NO.

Scenario 1

You’re a website designer and developer, a new client gets in touch asking “How much will a new website be?”

You explain that to give an accurate quote you will need some information, when are they free to meet and discuss?

They explain ‘Were very busy and wont have time to meet, could you just send a cost for a basic website?”

You outline a basic 5 page site with no ecommerce, and give them a price.

NO NO NO !!!!

If they don’t have time to tell you what they want – they are not dedicated to the project and a massive alarm bell should be ringing.

Scenario 2

Again I’ll use the website designer and developer scenario – you’re half way through your project with the very busy client above. You have been very clear about the deliverables and content they need to provide, and they agreed to the schedule provided, but dates start to come and go. Content delivery date was due last week, you get in touch and they say ‘Oh yes we’re so sorry, we’re working on it but have decided to add a few new services which means we will now need 10 pages instead of five, that won’t be a problem will it? We’ll have content ready by the end of the week”

NO NO NO !!!

This is called scope creep and it basically means you work harder for the same money and the project drags on foreeevvverr

My point with these scenarios is – quiet often there are little things that happen that ring alarm bells and you know you should have said no at a certain point but didn’t and because of that a project drags on far longer than it should. When you work out your hourly rate at the end of the project, you find you could have earned more working at Maccas.

Here are my top 5 tips for deciding when to say no:

  1. A client doesn’t have time to discuss the project before you even quote, which indicates a lack of commitment to the project.
  1. A client tries to heavily negotiate your quote. If they do this from the start they don’t value the work you are doing, BIG warning sign.
  1. The client asks ‘Could you just knock up a quick website for me? It’s a simple job, just copy and paste really. Yes, we’ve all heard that one before.
  1. The client that says they need a full marketing plan, photography and e commerce website by the end of the month. Unrealistic deadlines means trouble from the start.
  1. Before you start on the project the client tells you that they’ve not been able to work with their last three designers, and moans about their bad work and that they missed deadlines. Remember you are only hearing one side of the story in this situation.

So, how do you actually tell them no without sounding unprofessional and ungrateful?

Always explain why

When you say no, always give an explanation. You don’t want to burn bridges and if you can clearly explain why you have to say no, this goes along way in relationship building.

Be gentle

No one likes being said no to, so be careful about your language, use terms such as “We understand your situation” or “We are afraid that is outside of our control.”

Offer an alternative

There is a way round every issue, so always offer them an alternative – this way you are putting the decision back onto the client, something like I’m afraid we are unable to offer that service, but we feel this option could work even better for you.

Don’t be afraid

Remember YOU the freelancer are the expert – your client originally came to you because they couldn’t do it themselves, so show them how your expertise has helped other clients to grow their business. Be confident in your abilities, and in the knowledge that if that client isn’t right for you, another perfect client is just around the corner.

If all else fails, practice saying ‘no’ to your reflection in the mirror, so you can channel the freelance projects you actually want to work on, and pass on the rest!

Emma Morgan

Leave a Reply