7 Ways to Summon the Courage to Say “No”

What do you do when a freelancing project just isn’t right for you? Do you turn it down, or do you take it anyway?

Most freelancers already understand that they should say “no” to some clients. But often we freelancers just keep on saying “yes” when we know that we shouldn’t.

Here on Freelance Folder, we’ve explained when to say “no” and even provided some guidelines for saying “no.”

Why do we do it? Why do we accept projects when we know we shouldn’t? One reason is because we’re just not very good at turning work down.

In this post, I’ll give you seven ways to say “no” to those projects you know that you shouldn’t accept. I’ll also give you an opportunity to share some of your own tips on how to say “no.”

How to Say “No” to a Client

First of all, I need to confess something.

I, too, have said “yes” when I should have said “no.” I’ve sometimes agreed to take on freelance projects that I really shouldn’t have agreed to do. This post is as much for me as it is for you.

Saying “no” is much harder than it seems.

We say “yes” when we shouldn’t for a variety of reasons. We may be afraid that we won’t get any other offers. We may dread a confrontation. Or, we might be trying to please a prospect or client that we basically like as a person.

Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to summon the courage to turn down bad projects:

  1. Don’t rush into anything. Some of my worst freelancing decisions have been made in a rush. Most good opportunities will wait a day or so. It’s a good idea to sleep on it before deciding to accept a new project (especially if the project is large). Besides, if a prospect is pressuring you to respond quickly, that’s a bad sign.
  2. Trust your gut. Freelancing does involve some risk, so if you are a risk-averse person you may have trouble with this. It’s important to try new things. Still, if you sense that something is wrong with a particular project and that feeling just won’t go away, there’s probably a good reason for that feeling.
  3. Think of the long-term consequences. If you’re between paying gigs, a new opportunity may seem like just what you need. Even if that opportunity is low paying or isn’t in your area of expertise. You may be tempted to accept it. But taking a bad gig can keep so busy that you aren’t available for the good gigs, when they come. (And if you’re marketing yourself, they will come.)
  4. Be honest with yourself. The natural thing to do when you’re sliding towards a bad freelance project is to start to rationalize it. “This project won’t take very long,” we think to ourselves. Or, we tell ourselves “it won’t hurt to do it just this once.” Stop the rationalization.
  5. Practice saying “no.” If you shy away from confrontations, then you might have a tendency to say “yes” more than you should. You can overcome this through practice. Create a polite email template for turning projects down. Get together with a friend and practice saying “no” on the phone.
  6. Remind yourself of your goals. As a business professional, you should have goals for your freelancing business. Ideally, new projects should help you meet your goals. When you’re tempted to take a job that you aren’t really suited for, ask yourself whether the work will help you meet one of your goals.
  7. Refer them to someone else. An easy way to turn work down is to refer the prospect to another freelancer. This works especially well if the project and client are promising, but the work itself is not a good fit for your skills. By referring work to other freelancers, you build up good will with both your client and your colleague.

Like anything else, it takes practice to get good at turning the wrong projects down. But if you plan ahead, you will be prepared the next time someone asks you to do a project that isn’t right for you.

Your Turn

How do you turn freelancing work down when it’s wrong for you?

Share your stories and tips in the comments.

Image by snigl3t