Learning To Say “No” Nicely — How to Keep From Burning Bridges
Posted June 22, 2009 in How-To, Productivity
It’s scary to turn work down from a client.
Saying “no” could easily upset them, and it’s very possible that they might even get mad at you. For all you know, they might write you off as a freelancer — never to call on you for work again.
No freelancer that I know ever wants to risk losing a client because they turned down work.
For this reason, and many others, freelancers often agree to take on projects that they really don’t have the time to do properly.
However, squeezing the new work into an already full schedule could mean making mistakes (or even worse, compromising on quality). The result is often disappointment on the part of the client and frustration on the part of the freelancer.
It seems to be a problem with no good answer, but is it really? Is it possible to keep a client even after you’ve refused work from them?
Let’s examine some steps that you can take when a client contacts you with work that you don’t really have time (or desire) to do.
A Problem Scenario . . .
Here’s the scenario:
Your schedule is packed. You’re working on multiple client projects already and you’re in a crunch to get them finished. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a long-time client (let’s call him “Sam”) contacts you and asks you to take on his “tiny” project, due the day after tomorrow.
Now, you’re in a bind. You know that if you complete Sam’s project you probably won’t be able to meet your other deadlines. But, in the past Sam has given you a lot of work.
What’s a freelancer to do?
. . .And Some Possible Solutions
An office colleague mine used to have a sign over her desk that read “Poor Planning on Your Part Does Not Make an Emergency on My Part.” I didn’t fully understand it then, but now I know why she put it there. (I don’t know who originated this saying, but I’ve since seen it all over the Internet.)
Of course, saying those words to a client might be a little harsh. Instead, here are some gentler approaches that might help save a client relationship:
- Negotiate the deadline. A deadline is often just an arbitrary date. If you ask, the client may accept a different deadline. I remember once I worked long hours and weekends to turn in a freelance project on time . . . only to later get an e-mail from the client that said something like this, “I’ve been on vacation so I am just now reviewing your work, but it looks good.“
- Negotiate the scope. Maybe the client will accept less work (maybe just a draft or a concept) on their desired date or the project could be divided into several parts. There are many other ways that scope could be modified. Be creative! Without checking with the client, however, you’ll never know whether or not the scope is flexible.
- Outsource the work. If you have another freelancer that you regularly outsource work to (and if your client is okay with it), you can send this work to them. Of course, as the outsourcer you will oversee the project and monitor the quality. All client communications will come through you.
- Refer the client elsewhere. When none of the other options work, you may have to wash your hands of this project (although hopefully not of this client). Refer the client to another reliable freelancer that you know and trust. The risk here is that the client may prefer the new freelancer to you, but at least you will leave the client with the positive impression of having helped them.
The truth is that once in a while you will encounter an unreasonable client with last minute work who won’t be satisfied with any of the above solutions. When faced with this situation you will need to decide whether or not you want to work with them.
In most cases, if the client is completely unwilling to compromise, you will probably be better off avoiding the work.
What Would You Do?
If you faced the scenario above (a client contacting you with last minute work when you are already busy), what would you do?
What about some other scenarios where you might have to turn down work from a client? have you ever had to deal with this?
Share your stories in the comments.
- How To Balance Freelancing With A Full-Time Job Without Burning Out
- How To Keep The Freelancing Spark (Without Burning Out)