How to Drop Projects and Alienate Clients – Master The ART of Saying NO as a Freelancer // PART 2

by . January 23rd, 2014

Note. This is part 2 of the two-part series on the art of saying no as a freelance designer… Also known as the art of how to drop projects and alienate clients. Make sure to check the first part before going through this one: click here.

Let’s kick things off on a high note. There are some things that (should they happen) completely disqualify a possible deal and the client behind it. Let’s call them game-enders.

The obvious game-enders


As freelancers, at the end of the day, we’re running a business, right? And as a business, we simply have to be profitable in one way or the other. Therefore, besides the disturbing indicators I talked about in the previous part, it’s also good to set two (or more) personal red flags that disqualify a client and their project completely.

Again, these need to be your own indicators. I’m just about to show you mine, but this doesn’t mean that they will apply to all possible scenarios and personalities, so proceed with caution.

For me, a project gets an automatic no if BOTH of these things happen:




This means that I am ready to take low paying work if the “growth” aspect of it is still incredibly tempting. I had a number of those projects and I couldn’t be happier that I took them, even though my bank account didn’t share the same enthusiasm.

To give you an extreme example, would you take on a project offered by Tim Ferriss to help him work on his next book, say, designing the graphics, even if the salary was $0? That’s a yes from me.


Saying “no” mid-project


You shouldn’t be afraid to say no if you feel the situation calls for it, even if you’ve already started working on something. The simple fact is that if the project is not working out, both parties – your client and yourself – can decide to pull the plug on it.

There can be many reasons for stepping out of a project midway. And they will vary from person to person. Here, I just advise you to think about this for a while, and decide what’s the right (in this case I should probably say the wrong) indicator for you.


The thing you can start with is whether the project makes you feel uncomfortable as a human being when working on it.

For me, this is the absolute worst thing that can happen. Even though it might not sound like a big deal, not feeling comfortable (on a personal level) will always have an impact on your performance and results, not mentioning your stress levels. A good wake up call in such situations is to recall why you started freelancing in the first place (do a short interview with yourself). I’m sure it wasn’t to fight for survival with tough clients.

“not feeling comfortable will always have an impact on your performance and results”


Accepting challenges


Please notice that in the previous point, I referred to your level of comfort as a human being, not as a professional freelancing machine that you are.

Some projects are simply challenging but only on a professional level. Ultimately, those are the projects that will make you grow, and you shouldn’t pull the plug on them just because they feel kinda tough.




The trick here is to separate your lack of comfort due to the serious challenge that lies ahead of you from your lack of comfort caused by purely personal factors.

In short, say yes to challenges. Say no to things that make you feel like a downer.


The tools to make this easier


As always in the modern world, there are many tools that can help us in finding some stuff out about the client and, as a result, in making up our mind whether to work with them or not. Here, I just want to present you with 4 tools and their somewhat not-so-obvious uses:


Buzzstream – designed as an outreach tool (for SEO and guest blogging) is actually a great research tool. A nice search/discovery feature allows you to find various data about the niche your client is in and the things that are usually done in it. This will help you find out what your level of personal comfort is with this niche.



Bidsketch – use it to create clear project proposals that detail every part of the project, every part of your offer, every payment deadline, every delivery deadline, and so on. Doing this properly will give the client clear indication that you’re serious about what you do, as well as the scope of the tasks that will be done in the project along with their corresponding rates.



Grasshopper – use it to sound a bit like a Fortune 500 company in front of your clients. That way, they will be certain that they’re dealing with a professional business and not just someone working from their basement. This should make them less eager to negotiate the rates too brutally due to your higher perceived value.



Dropbox – use it as a public storage for your portfolio. Depending on the type of freelancing you do, it can be easier or harder to show your portfolio on a website (for heavy 3D design projects, for example). That’s where Dropbox comes into play with their publicly available folder. You can use it to share any type of file and you don’t have to worry about the bandwidth.



This really is an art


I did my best not to give you any type of “if this then that” advice in this short series. There’s a strong reason for that. I mean, I’ve been wrong before, but I truly see the skill of saying no as an art rather than a science.

Being too rule-driven when selecting projects and clients can quickly lead to stopping your growth due to (false) time limitations, or (false) belief that this specific project is outside of your expertise…when in fact it’s just a professional challenge to tackle.


I’m curious to know about your personal approach at saying no. What is the main factor for you when selecting a client to work with?


Image credits:


About the Author

Karol K. is a freelance blogger and writer. He is also part of Bidsketch – a tool helping small businesses, freelancers and consultants create great looking and functional client proposals. If you’d like to get in touch, feel free to reach him at Google+ or Twitter (@carlosinho).