Turning down work, especially in the beginning must seem unthinkable if you struggle to get clients. However, there are some times when you’re better off without that client on your list. If they end up taking up more time and energy than you can bill for, you are usually better off looking for someone else.

How do you know when it’s best to turn a job down?

Your gut is telling you to

While it’s important to think through the pros and cons rationally, sometimes your gut is just right. Your gut feeling isn’t really a random response to something or some kind of sixth sense. It’s usually because you’ve picked up on something unconsciously that you don’t like. You might not know what it is but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.


You’re getting asked to work for free

Some potential clients will ask for free work with the promise of paid work in the future. Sometimes this is true, but sometimes it just isn’t so you have to be careful. If you’re applying for a permanent or long term contract then this isn’t so bad, but if it’s for one-off pieces then the chances are that the free one is the one-off.

Working for free is entirely up to you, but it’s definitely not something you want to get in the habit of. It wastes too much of your time without the returns. Plus, if you do it once, they’ll probably see no reason why you can’t do it again.


You won’t get a credit or testimonial

Credits or testimonials from your client are great for getting more clients. They look good on your website and give you some authority. If when speaking with this client, they outright refuse any kind of testimonial or review or to let you use your own work in your portfolio then this is a bad sign. If you don’t even know who the end client is, this is also bad news. You need to know where your work will end up and how it will be used.


They want to control your working hours

If this client wants you to come into the office for typical working hours and not work for anyone else, it looks like they’re looking for a cheap alternative to an employee. Some companies hire people like employees but refuse to give them the benefits that employees are entitled to. If you get into this situation you could be looking at a tricky IR35 case.


Their freelancers don’t stick around

Say you’re a freelance writer being asked to write blog posts. Take a look at their blog to see what other writers have written. If you find their authors are only writing a couple of pieces, they’re clearly not sticking around for some reason.


They’ve got unrealistic expectations

Sometimes you’ll come across a client who thinks you can complete vast amounts of work in a short space of time. This is often because they assume they’re your only client and you’ve got the time or they simply don’t understand the amount of work you’ll have to do.

You can try explaining that it’s not possible to meet their expectations. However, you’ve got no guarantee that they won’t kick up a fuss if the work isn’t completed as quickly as they’d like. If they’re underestimating the amount of effort your work will cost, the chances are they will be unhappy paying high fees for it too.


They’re not happy with extra fees

Unfortunately the “scope creep” client is pretty common. They’re the types who agree to a set amount of work only to end up asking for a little bit extra, for free of course because it’s only a little bit.

It’s important that before you start work you explain that any extra work is chargeable. A good client will understand this, but some don’t like the sound of it. However, this is your business and you have to be firm. There’s little point in you spending time doing little bits of extra work which add up when you could be doing other work that you’re getting paid for.


Have you ever had to turn down a client or job? What were your reasons? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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