How to say no to clients

Last checked and updated on November 25, 2020

Being a “yes” man (or woman) can be quite difficult, particularly when you’re working as a freelancer. People with day jobs don’t have to worry about making a decision to work with someone or not once they’re hired. They’ve got what they’ve got and they have to make the best of it.

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Freelancers, however, are frequented with opportunities that require either a “yes” or “no” for an answer. Double up the trouble of deciding with considerations about potential earnings in the future or disappointing a long-standing client.

But hey, everyone has a good reason to say NO! Don’t they?

So, if you’re often caught up with an inner battle because you know you should be declining a project, but can’t find the “nicest words” to say it, here are 4 ways you can cheat the word, “no” by not having to say it at all—and of course imply it!

Ask for the impossible

If you know your client is looking for something “urgent” and it’s totally not in the cards for your (tight schedule, time-consuming work, etc), you can simply “decline” by saying you won’t be free until a later date. If need be, explain how your schedule is packed and it’s highly unlikely for you to get it done by the time they prefer. They’re sure to back out.

Turn the tables and have them decide

This is pure tact that all freelancers should learn when declining clients. The trick is to avoid being “blameworthy” for the decision. The easiest way to do this is to set your terms for the project. For example, you may say that you won’t accept a rate lower than $1,000. Or, you may extend the time frame of the project so that you’re able to give it a “due amount of time and attention and provide quality results”. If you’re not willing to accept the project at any cost, you can come up with a bogus demand such as a too-high price that you’re sure the client will immediately refuse. That way, you’re not the one saying no. Your client is.

Just be honest

Sometimes, just being honest is the best way to decline an offer without seeming rude. For instance, you may feel that the project does not match your skill set. Or you may be reluctant to work for the amount they’re willing pay. Very often, freelancers don’t have the time required to complete a project before the due date. In all of these scenarios, it doesn’t make sense to “hide” the real reason or provide excuses that aren’t true. Furthermore, saying yes is only going to lead you into an even stickier situation you’ll regret later on. Present your reason, but politely, and you won’t have to worry about offending anyone.

Offer a referral

Perhaps, you know another freelancer just like you who might be looking for the kind the project you’re being offered. This will show that you’re genuinely tied up and are willing to help the client out with whatever you’ve got.

 Say no… or something like it!

There are so many ways you can get away without actually having saying “no”. Try variations such as, “I appreciate the offer, but unfortunately, I’m swamped with project X” or “Thank you so much. But it seems like this time you’ll have to hire someone else”.

Never ignore their calls or emails because you can’t find the words to say no. Be nice, be polite, and be genuine. If your reasons are sound, there’s a high chance you’re client will appreciate your honesty and have a praiseworthy impression of you in their mind.

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