Freelancers : Ways To Say “No” Tactfully


Being a freelancer is not always a case of saying yes and complying to every request that a client or prospective client comes up with. After all, some of the requests can be wrong or even inappropriate.

In the bid to simply outsource whatever they need, some of the tasks can be a little odd. This partly depends on what sort of freelancer you are. A social media specialist may get more unusual requests than a freelance writer, but it all depends.


Do bear in mind that it is better to explain your reasons for refusing an assignment rather than simply saying “No.” The word no doesn’t come across too well with clients who mistakenly feel like you’re their junior. Therefore, a sensible explanation is useful to offset this feeling of rejection. It helps them not “lose face” and you may be able to continue doing business with them in the future.

So here are a few examples of client requests that should be avoided or adjusted in order to avoid issues arising up from them.

Low ball offers. Many times a client will ask for a painfully low rate. They may back this up by saying that it’s “the market price right now” or “that’s all I have in my budget.” Bear in mind that their budget and your prices have no connection; if their budget is artificially low, that’s their problem not yours. A good reply is to say that, “I cannot accept less than $x for this project/task.”

Out of scope. With web design projects especially, if you don’t agree to a clear project plan for what is (and isn’t) included in the agreement, then a good percentage of clients will try to add more aspects to a web site than you believe was agreed to. Here you have to be polite but firm, “That additions falls outside of the agreed project plan. If you wish, I can provide you with a new quote for this addition?“

Out of speciality. If you’re a programmer, don’t take on design work unless you are able to handle it or you already have an outsourcing partner who works for feasible rates and delivers. Unless you can quickly bone up on what you need to know, you are best to refer the business to another freelancer who maybe can return the favor in the future.

Unreasonable deadlines. If a client brings an unreasonably short deadline with their project, it is important to be clear how unrealistic this is. They may only be looking for a freelancer who can deliver on this time-frame in which case further discussions are just a waste of your time. Trying to hit an unreasonable deadline and failing, the client will not remember that you said it was doubtful you could hit the deadline spot on. They’ll just blame you. It is best to say, “I’m sorry but it’s not possible to deliver the spec you need by your deadline. I can deliver on this date: (date). Not before.”

Discounts sought. Everyone loves to get a discount. How to deal with this during negotiation? You can have fixed rates or you can price above what you need to bill in order to get what you’re looking for by being willing to reduce your price to this number during negotiations. You must have a number that you won’t go below otherwise clients can get you working for break-even revenue and you’re not getting ahead at all.

Choice language. Some clients are more working class and so their vocabulary is more colorful shall we say. If this doesn’t bother you, then that’s fine. However, if you dislike it, you work from home with family present or you share a co-working space where your discussions can be overheard, then you might need to make some adjustments. The best thing to do is to explain the situation and ask that they refrain themselves where possible.

More revisions or rewrites than agreed. In situations with freelancing where you are asked to make revisions to a logo design or rewrites to a piece of writing, you will need to start specifying with agreements how many iterations are covered within your pricing. Where necessary, you may also need to have a separate price per revision/rewrite. This is to avoid clients who expect endless revisions without any concern for your survivability as a business.

Bad reputation. Experience has shown freelancers time and time again that when a prospective client has a bad reputation, run from them. Their ethics and morals and code of conduct during business transactions clearly do not match yours and there will inevitably be clashes. I got caught once with a client who sent rude emails to another writer, who had them commented on a message board about them. I didn’t catch this early enough. The buyer seemed fine. Until he wasn’t and used verbal abuse and threats to try to distract from the fact that he hasn’t paying his bills. Ultimately he never did pay and I lost much time dealing with him. Always check thoroughly first.

Pushy clients. People from certain countries have a culture where they are extremely impatient and will chase chase chase for progress. It doesn’t matter what deadline is set, almost from the very first date they’ll be pumping out chase emails and be overly quick to publicly complain which can hurt future business. With these types of clients you need to be really firm with them that an appropriate deadline has been set and that the emails will not be tolerated. If they will not stop, then as long as you have enough work-flow, it is best to hand the task back. No matter how they tell you they will stop, this type of client will never stop. They can’t. The impetus that makes them chase and chase, is not something they can turn off.

Too much communication. Other clients want your Skype ID and will want to talk continually on a daily basis. Unless your project warrants this much contact, you need to inform them that you only use Skype for critical communication. Your work requires uninterrupted time to focus which immediate messenger interrupts (IM and the telephone are both interruption technologies; email is if you check every email right after it arrives). Most “creatives” require quiet and time to work through projects without being hounded. Make it clear that you need to keep communications minimal otherwise the deadline will need to be revised backwards. This usually will change their approach quickly enough.

Booked solid. Thank the person for their business. Inform them that you are booked up presently, but could take on the project in x weeks. Otherwise, if they cannot wait, then you can refer them to a colleague that you know delivers equally well.

New project before being paid for last one. This has happened to me several times before. It’s best to be clear that it’s a rule that the earlier project gets paid before beginning the new one. This acts as leverage. If the client was tardy with payments, possibly even waiting until they had a new project before even considering making the final payment for the last project, then request a deposit for the new project. Expect to get rebuffed from such a client who clearly grasps their pennies tightly in both hands. Then it’s a choice whether to accept this situation or find other clients who pays more professionally.