At some stage, the majority of freelancers will experience difficulties getting work. They’ll also spend a fair proportion of their time trying to find more work – the next project or the magical new client that will pay them well and assign them regular projects.

So surely there’s never a time you should say no to work?  You’d have to be mad, right?

Wrong. There are some valid reasons for turning down freelance projects, so here are some you should be aware of.

Top Seven Reasons for Turning Down Freelance Work

It’s Not Your Area of Expertise

Sometimes, stretching yourself a little and learning on the job can be a good thing. But beware straying too far from what you know. Your inexperience may soon show. Also, time spent on these projects is time spent away from building your expertise and reputation in your niche.

If you’re offered this alternative work again, you may find yourself lured further and further into a market you originally had no intention of entering. If it pays well, you enjoy it and you’re good at it, then maybe that’s not a problem – this could become your new But if that’s not the case, say no unless you’re desperate for work.

The Pay is Too Low

So you’re desperate for work – but exactly how desperate? If you say yes to poorly paid work, this client may expect you to work for these low rates again. Other companies may hear that you’re cheap, and existing clients may wonder why you charge them so much when you’re prepared to work for so little.

And you may end up overloaded with time-consuming, low-paying work that then prevents you from saying yes to something more profitable.
Always try to offer something extra or unique to justify a higher rate rather than accepting a lower one. Low-paid work should be a last resort.

Your Workload is Too Heavy

Conversely, the work that’s on offer may be well-paid and interesting. It may be for a regular client that you don’t want to let down. You may feel guilty about saying no and wonder if you’re crazy to turn it down – and begin to ask yourself if you could fit it in by working some late nights here and there… a couple of weekends, maybe…

Perhaps you could. Or perhaps you’ll hit a snag with the new work – or the old – and it will take longer than you expect. Maybe you’ll come down with flu or your partner/child/parent will break their leg and need your attention.

I’m not trying to encourage paranoia here, but just some self-protection. If your schedule is already full, or nearly so, beware taking on extra work. Not only is it not good for you to overwork yourself, it’s also not good for your home life, relationships, or (potentially) your clients.

Will you really be doing your best work if your time and attention are pulled in multiple directions? And if you miss a deadline or produce poor quality work, how might that affect your client’s own business – and their faith in you?

The Client Has an Unreliable Record

If you can, always check out a client before you begin working with them. If they have a history of bad communication and unfair treatment towards freelancers, they’re best avoided.

There’s no time for late payers, either, and definitely no time for non-payers; your time should be spent on profitable work, not chasing payments or arguing with a client who’s trying to wriggle out of paying at all.

Check reviews and freelance forums to see if there’s a history of complaints about the client and check out the financial health of their business, too. If you’re in any doubt, say no.

The Brief is Too Vague

Sometimes, you will be able to chat to the client and firm up the brief so that you both know exactly what’s wanted and expected. At other times, it can be clear from the outset that the client has wandered into unfamiliar territory and has no idea what they’re doing.

Other clients do have an idea, but can change their mind constantly – or expect you to be psychic and adapt to their new ‘vision’ when they’ve forgotten to put it into words.
If the client doesn’t know what they want, it can go two ways.

They may admit their inexperience, leave it in your capable and more experienced hands, and be blown away by the result. Or you may spend months on a frustrating project, adapting and redoing work and awaiting client input – only to find, once it’s done, that the client is not happy with it and reluctant to pay you for your hard work.

This is a gambling situation, but my advice would be to get to know the client before you slide all your chips across the table. If you can’t do so – or you do, but don’t get a good vibe – say no.

The Deadline is Unrealistic

There’s a minimum amount of time that any task can take, even if you skip meals, and producing quality work takes longer. Explain to the client that you can’t produce work of sufficient quality to the timescale they’re demanding.

If they’re prepared to be flexible, either by moving the deadline or reducing/staging the workload, that’s fine. If they’re adamant, say no. Again, you’re overloading yourself and risking producing sub-standard work, and that’s in nobody’s best interests.

The Project Bores You Rigid

There will be times when we all have to take on work that isn’t our favourite type. Sometimes, needs must. But unless you’re desperate for work and/or money, be brave and say no if someone offers you work so boring it makes your heart sink.

It can be difficult, especially if you know you’re the ideal candidate and would do a fantastic job, and it’s even more difficult to say no if it pays well. However, if you’re ticking along nicely and it’s not offering you the kind of pay that has you dreaming of early retirement to a tropical paradise, be bold, be polite and say no.

Life is too short to work on demoralising tasks when you don’t need to – and what happens if you’ve just tied yourself up for three months’ work on Boring when Amazing comes along?

Now I’m not claiming it’s always easy to say no, particularly if there’s an element of guilt involved or you’re turning down work from a good client. You should always aim to make your refusal polite and it’s probably best not to tell someone that their proposed eBook on Types of Plumbing Pipe Through the Ages makes you want to curl up in a ball.

But saying no is part of being a business-minded, efficient freelancer, and it’s one of freelancing’s freedoms, too. So make sure it’s a freedom you exercise. You’ve earned it!


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