Rejection, It’s NOT Personal

Okay, maybe sometimes it is. After all, you’re a person.

Sometimes a client rejects your work for reasons that are completely inexplicable. Sometimes, unthinkably, personal comments are even made at the time of rejection.

Whether or not their reasons for rejecting your work are personal, it certainly feels that way when your freelancing client turns you down for a new project. That hurts. It’s natural to feel some pain after losing a gig.

However, there are ways for freelancers to get past rejection. In this post, I’ll discuss rejection and invite you to share some of your strategies for dealing with it.

The Painful Truth About Rejection

Every freelancer gets rejected sooner or later. There. I said it. Ouch!

In fact, if you’re not getting rejected once in a while it could be a sign that your rates are too low.

The problem of rejection can be particularly acute for a new freelancer who has been accustomed to working for a single employer. When you work for a single employer you go through the interview process (sometimes only once) and after you’re hired, you’re in. (At least, that’s the impression that most people have about permanent jobs, although there’s really no such thing as a secure job any more.)

In contrast, every freelancer faces rejection each and every time that they apply for a new gig. Even when the freelancer is awarded a project, they have to start the interview process all over again as soon as the work is complete. This can be unnerving, to say the least–especially if you’re not used to it.

When the Rejection Is Understandable

Some rejections hurt less than others. For me, this happens when the client gives an understandable reason (even if that reason is “your prices are too high”). If I can understand the reason why the client didn’t accept me for their freelancing project, personally it makes it a lot less painful.

After all, I do realize that I’m not a perfect fit for every single freelance writing project that there is. (Although, I do think I’m an excellent fit for a lot of them.) I know that there are other talented freelancers out there. So, when a prospective client lists some reasonable objections, I can take it in stride.

When the Rejection Is Not Understandable

There are times though, that it’s harder to take a rejection.

For me, this usually happens when a client turns me down for a project that I thought I was perfect for without a reason. Or, maybe they do have a reason, but their reason doesn’t make any sense to me.

It can be hard not to take those rejections personally. But, the best thing a freelancer can do at such times is take a deep breath and move on.

This Is Business

In any given freelancing field, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of practicing freelancers. This can make it difficult for any client to make a choice. And, of course, most clients want the best value for their money. That’s just good business sense.
We’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. One way the freelancers can improve their chances of being selected for a project is to differentiate their services and come up with a good unique selling proposition. If this is done effectively, it makes it easier for a prospective client to pick you out from the crowd.

Another thing to remember is that, given the choice, most clients will choose to work with someone who they believe is easy to get along with. So, if two freelancers have basically the same skills, similar experience, and the same quality of samples in their portfolio, the one who is more personable and friendly is most likely to get the work.

More Advice on How to Handle Rejection

Here are some additional excellent posts about how to handle rejection as a freelancer:

Also, don’t miss this post on how to avoid rejection:

What Do You Think?

How do you handle rejection? Do you have a strategy for handling it that we haven’t mentioned here?

If so, please share your strategy in the comments.


  1. says

    As a freelance translator, you can often find that the potential client doesn’t have the skills to appreciate the value of your product (i.e. they can’t speak the language that they need the material translating into), which can lead them to focus unduly on the price and go for a cheap and (actually not very cheerful) solution instead of one that is accurate and elegant. Maybe that’s why I tend not to take the odd rejection very personally. That and the fact that most of business comes from regular repeat clients anyway.

  2. says

    Hi Oliver!

    I think that’s a great attitude to have. I’m sure that many clients of designers, writers, or other freelancers also do not really understand what the freelancer does.

  3. says

    I’ve gotten a bit more relaxed about rejection over the years. As you said, it’s more palatable when the reason is clearly stated: one potential client did in fact inform me that my quoted price was “out of their budget.” I’m okay with that (experience tells me that my rates aren’t outlandish in any way). Conversely, I recently lost out on a project because of internal politics that had nothing to do with me. I’m still wondering if more persuasive lobbying on my part would have made a difference.

  4. says

    I feel I’m not often rejected because of my low prices, unfortunately and the amount of work I do for the money I demand… well, I’m still adjusting : ) Recently I was rejected, to my amazement, by a joint venture (2 flower companies + one girl who is a garden designer) – my offer was VERY competitive and I listed a few nice things + I offered one great idea of promotion which was possible thanks to my connections. If I were them, I would go for the price just to get this additional opportunity which only I could guarantee to them (building a small branded garden installation in a non-public school with rich people). Well, it didn’t happen. I thought to myself so strong as “fools! they could’ve gotten so many rich customers.” Anyway, my other project for some other company came through the first stage and I’m just waiting for final acceptance and this will be more or less as big as the rejected one. I guess the rejections often vary so it’s not worth taking it personally.

  5. says

    Hi Suzanne!

    It sounds like you have a good attitude about rejection. If you know your rates are fair, then there’s no reason to be upset if a client can’t afford you.

    Hi Sponsi–It sounds like you’re keeping pretty busy despite a few rejections. I liked your last line–“rejections often vary so it’s not worth taking it personally.”

  6. says

    How to handle rejection? I think there is only one way to learn how to get a hard mentality, and that is to get rejected. There are as many scenarios as there are freelancers.

    For me it helps a lot to be conscious about when to be in “personal mode” and in “business mode”, so that I know when to switch from soft to harder mentality.

    Not making friends with too many potential clients could be a good way to avoid those uncomfortable rejections, but on the other side I guess the potential clients will more likely hire you if you know them well. It’s not easy to give a clear advice.

  7. says

    Thanks for an insightful article, Laura! Rejection can sting if you’ve put a lot of time and thought and energy into bidding on a project. (Which is why I put a limit into how much effort I put into project proposals.) But remember, even if you don’t win a project bid — you can still learn (about yourself, your service, the market, the client’s industry, etc.) from the process. Often rejection truly isn’t personal, particularly if the client already has someone else in mind for the project. Sometimes they’re just seeking other bids to see what’s out there. It’s all a learning experience. Energy not wasted if you learn! I also follow up on bids to find out if I didn’t get a project — why not. Agree with your advice — finding ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded market and building a great referral network are the best ways to avoid those cold rejections.

  8. says

    Thanks Laura for bringing up sensitive topics like rejection. I gotta say that I get rejected lots of times and each time hurts like getting stung by a needle. I try not to let it get to me though by analyzing their reasons why they rejected me and doing my best to learn from them. I also keep telling myself that if a client rejects me because they think I’m too expensive & they prefer cheaper freelancers, they may not be the kind of people I’d want to work with in the long run.

  9. says

    Great comments everyone!

    It’s important to remember that every freelancer gets rejected–so, if it happens to you. Don’t let it get you down too much. :)

    Heidi and Stephanie make a great point that it hurts more when you try really hard, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying your best.

  10. says

    Rejection is part of life whatever field you’re toiling around. In the freelancing arena, where competition and you-can’t-please-everyone exist, rejection also comes along but it doesn’t always happen every time. There would really come a time for you to have an offer, even a better one.

    Well, it’s true that it really hurts but by just hanging on with stamina and patience, then @Laura’s ‘take a deep breath and move on’ really works. Another great post Laura…

  11. says

    Very good article!
    Freelancers are to get all the rejection pain because they are sales, accounting, developer and owner of the business in the mean time.
    Handling rejection is important only from the business side of view as I presume that everybody leaves the emotional factor in the closet 1st thing in the morning when they start doing business. I had 35% acceptance ratio when I was at my peak as a freelancer but that was the moment when the acceptance chase was over. Why? Because I realized that getting repeated jobs from steady partners was a better strategy.
    You can do a lot of stuff for handling rejection and improving the acceptance ratio (refine the offers, refine the prices, refine the attitude) but if you’re getting emotional about it you should start thinking about a steady job.

  12. says

    You can easily project this article on other areas, such as personal relationships, as well. Good summary, however I’d have liked to read a bit more on how to best handle rejection etc…

  13. says

    These are awesome tips, Laura. Seasoned freelancers must have a skin as thick as that of an elephant’s hide when it comes to facing rejection. Now, how will a freelancer handle a deceptive form of rejection? For example, you were told that the work you produced was crappy and instead of being asked for a revision, you’re asked to give a discount for something the client might be using 100%,, even if you’re told your work is totally useless. Do you give in to this request? Thanks in advance for reading my question.

  14. says

    Absolutely. The customers don’t understand always the rejection because they think everything is possible. Unfortunately sometimes it is better to reject in case to … you know – the customer to receive more qualitative service.


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