How to Drop Projects and Alienate Clients – Master The ART of Saying NO as a Freelancer // PART 1

by . January 21st, 2014

The topic of saying no as a freelancer seems like an issue covered well enough on the web as it is. Quite frankly, you are likely to find tens of posts by doing just a simple Google search.


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But that being said, most of the advice you’ll stumble upon is very predictable, and the only thing it does is elaborate on some fairly known principles.

Things like: Don’t take work if you’re fully booked for the month. Know your commitments. Don’t take work if the money’s not there. Don’t take work that’s outside of your comfort zone. Don’t take projects that are too small and require too much meta work. And so on.


The only problem with this is that saying no is essentially an art, not a science. I know that it sounds a bit cliché but please bear with me.

In this short two-part series, I’ll show you why having a purely cause-and-effect centered approach at saying no can stop your business from growing and getting to that mysterious next level. And it all starts with the following…

“saying no is an art, not a science”


The most misused reason for saying “no”


Any guesses?





Time is clearly the most misused reason for saying no as a freelancer. We often trick ourselves into thinking that we don’t have time for some specific endeavor. That our schedule doesn’t allow for it, or that we’ll end up overworking and missing a deadline.



Saying that “I don’t have time” is the easiest way out of having great things happen in our lives.


First of all, time is a relative concept, so treat it as such. Or do you want to argue with A. Einstein on this?


The fact is that no matter how busy we are, we can always develop more time on the spot, just like that. This is done through erasing other obligations, creative day planning, and concentration (damn it!).


And to prove my point, let me go seemingly off-topic and ask you how did you meet your spouse? Did you approach her/him based on an educated decision that you had, say, 3-4 hours of focused time to spare EACH DAY to be with them? I guess not. But you know what…you’ve managed to adjust your schedule anyway.

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As humans, we’re designed to feel the shortage of time and to think that we can’t do something because we wouldn’t be able to do another thing. But as life shows us, things can always be moved, added, and some old things can be removed to make more room for the new and exciting.


That’s why saying no to great projects due to time limitations is both silly and irrational. More than that, it prevents us from growing.


It’s not projects we say “no” to, it’s people


The funny thing is that no matter what rules we have for separating the projects that get a yes from those that get a no, it all often goes down the drain when emotion kicks in and takes over our decision process.

That’s because it’s people we’re dealing with, not projects.


Plus, all interactions between two people are based on emotion. We may indeed have rules set in place, but when it’s all said and done and a decision has to be made whether or not to take a project, then it’s our gut feeling that gets the most say. I’m sure you can relate that some clients just feel okay even if the project is not staggering, while others feel like a big warning sign despite the great payout.

For every one of us, there are just some individuals that we would like to work with no matter what, and there are others we’ll avoid regardless of what they’re offering.

Is this project right for me?


Here are some indicators that might help you to make a yes or no decision:

Does the client want you to send them new samples of your work? Free samples are a common way of extorting work from freelancers. Showcasing a portfolio really is enough to determine if you’re the right person for the job. Clients asking for new samples – things you have to create specifically for them – are bad news.




Does the client expect to have constant control over you via Skype or some other channel? Another bad indicator. Let’s face it, you’re not a secret agent, and the person paying you for a job doesn’t need to know where you are or what you’re doing at the moment.


Does the client understand the type of work you will be doing exactly and know the limitations? For example, for freelance designers, a very common limitation is having to purchase some additional stock images to complete the design. This, depending on the contract, can but doesn’t have to be included in the initial price. Clients who know what they’re getting into won’t be frustrated when faced with such a situation.




Can the client offer you an opportunity to grow in what you’re doing? In other words, does the job present any challenges in itself?


Is the client a nice person to interact with? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to work with people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with. This is called the “beer rule” by the way…and it works surprisingly well.


As you can see, the majority of the factors above are very personal in nature. This might sound quite counterintuitive since we’re talking business here, but the fact is that behind every company and every firm there are real, flesh-and-blood humans. For that reason alone, thinking only about the business details of a deal is not the most effective approach.

The people we’re doing business with should always come first.

So this concludes the first part of this short two-part series. The indicators above are not game-enders, but they surely raise an eyebrow and should make you question if a deal is a match for you.

In the next part, we’ll kick things up a notch and talk about the obvious “no” red flags, the game-enders, the things that (should they happen) absolutely disqualify a deal.


In the meantime, is there anything else you’d like to point out as a bad indicator, based on your interactions with clients?


CONTINUE READING: Master The ART of Saying NO as a Freelancer // PART 2


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About the Author

Karol K. is a freelance blogger and writer. He is founder of and also a team member at Bidsketch – bringing you the best client proposals that can be designed, managed and sent out in minutes. If you’d like to get in touch, feel free to reach him at Google+ or Twitter (@carlosinho).