Should You Ever Turn Freelancing Work Down?

Do you have more work than you can do right now?

Here on Freelance Folder, we spend a lot of time talking about how to get more freelance work…and rightfully so. Many freelancers struggle to find freelance work.

However, there’s another side to freelancing that many experienced freelancers will attest to–freelance overload. This is the feast aspect of the infamous freelancing feast or famine cycle.

In this post, we’ll take a look at this common freelancing problem–that of what to do when you have more work than you can handle. Then, I’ll turn the floor over to you in the comments. You can share your tips for handling a busy workload or explain when you turn work down.

So, Should You Ever Turn Freelancing Work Down?

In a word, “yes.” But, the reasons for turning work down are not necessarily what you might imagine them to be.

You should definitely turn work down when:

  • The client seems shady
  • They are asking you to do something that seems shady
  • You are uneasy about working for the client
  • The client is unwilling to pay you a reasonable rate

You probably already know that there are many ways to say “no” to a potential client.

Is being too busy to get the job done yourself one of those times when you should say “no” to a prospective client?

It depends. Recently, I was chatting with a freelancing friend and was surprised to hear her say, “you should never turn down (legitimate) paying work.”

Her comment got me thinking about the options that we freelancers have (but often don’t consider) when we are too busy to handle a particular project.

4 Options for Getting the Job Done

Do you have to turn new projects down when you’re too busy to get it done yourself? Your first reaction may be that you should turn work down when you are too busy to get it done. (At least, that was my initial reaction.)

Did you know that there are actually four alternatives to turning new projects down that you can consider:

  1. Negotiation–You may be able to keep a project if you can get the client to change the scope of the work or the deadline. Remember, most clients are more willing to negotiate than many freelancers realize.
  2. Organize–Re-organizing your schedule and your office can help you to work more efficiently. When you get organized, you may realize that you have additional time that you didn’t know you had.
  3. Outsourcing–You can give another writer a much-needed career boost by outsourcing some of your overload work. Of course, you’ll need to supervise your subcontractor’s work and pass on client communications.
  4. Referrals–You can develop a reciprocal agreement with one or several other freelancers to share each other’s overload work. Naturally, these need to be trusted top-notch professionals since you won’t be overseeing the project personally.

Of course, each of these options still requires effort on your part. And there’s always the risk that an arrangement could fall through (in which case you may find yourself working lots of extra hours to get everything done).

You may wonder whether these options are even worth your trouble.

Why Accept Even More Work?

Is it worth it for you to accept more freelancing projects when you are already overloaded with your existing projects?

The answer is, “it can be.”

If you manage the additional projects well using one or more of the tips above, then you’ve satisfied that client’s needs. Clients tend to remember freelancers who perform well. The next time that client needs to have freelancing work done, they are likely to turn to you (and you may not be as busy when they do).

On the other hand, if you just turn the extra work away every time you are too busy to do it yourself, then you may be missing out on some great opportunities. It’s possible that you will never hear from those prospective clients that you turned away again.

Your Turn

When you are overloaded, do you turn new projects down or use one of the strategies above to meet the prospective client’s needs?

Share your tips and experiences in the comments below.


  1. says

    Here’s another reason to turn work down: the work outside the services you provide, or isn’t the kind of work you want to do.

    I declined bidding on a project for a current customer a few months back. The work is in a similar technology to my usual stuff, and the customer was comfortable with the fact that it wasn’t my regular technology. But after thinking about it some, I realized I would have to invest a lot of time learning it, and it wasn’t really a direction I wanted to go. So I politely explained my reason.

    For me it is much harder to say “no” to a current client than to a prospect! But it was the right decision for me and my business.

  2. says

    Avonelle Lovhaug–

    Thanks for weighing in. :)

    I understand perfectly what you’re saying. There are some projects I would turn down simply because I don’t have enough knowledge of that specific area and it would not be cost effective to learn it.

    However, I also know that some would say that I should refer or outsource those projects to a writer who can handle them.

  3. says

    Laura – I can understand why some would say it makes sense to outsource those projects. But I have no desire to supervise other people’s work. That’s one of the reasons why I started freelancing! :-)

  4. says

    I’ve never had to turn down work because I’m too busy. Many times, however, I’ve had to renegotiate timelines because the work that I had involved very specific deadlines that couldn’t be changed. So far, my clients have been very understanding and haven’t had a problem with this.

  5. says

    For the past few months, I’ve been having to turn down a lot of work – even with raising my rates multiple times. I can only work so many hours a week because sleep has to happen at some point.

    Recently I’ve decided that it would be beneficial for me to hire an employee or two to help out. The reason for an employee over a freelancer is some clients are paying for the means to the ends, and the IRS doesn’t like it when you try to control a contractor’s means. Better to stay on the correct side of that line.

  6. says

    1. When I choose to accept work while I am already busy, I create a waiting list; or

    2. If customers have tight deadlines, I have an amazing copywriting colleague to whom I refer work, and she does the same with me.

    Lastly, if I feel I have to supervise someone’s work, I wouldn’t feel confident giving it to them to begin with. This is why I use someone whose talent I know and trust implicitly.

  7. says


    What an interesting idea–a waiting list! How do you manage it exactly? Do you give clients an idea of when you will start and finish their project, or do you just let them know that they are, say, third in line?

    I totally agree with your other point about referring work to a trusted colleague.

    Good comment!

  8. says

    If the client isn’t shady and the work is within my scope, and at the right price, I’ll accept it an outsource to several writers that I work with regularly. This way the client doesn’t have to deal with finding someone new, and I still make a little as an editor/project manager. Transitioning from straight referrals to this way of doing things has taken some time, but I think I’ve finally found the right balance.

  9. says


    Thanks for the comment. I definitely think you’ve got a good solution going, although I know it can be tricky to find reliable writers willing to take on overload work.

  10. says

    People are more inclined to wait when you come recommended as opposed to having learned of you randomly. I let clients know when I plan to be done with the project(s) that’s lined up before theirs. Then I give them an idea (a set date) of when I will start and finish their project.

  11. says

    I never take what I can get. I have refused more jobs than taken them, why? because the prospects were cheap. They ask for the world and pay very little. I am not here to compete with other designers. I rather get 1 job a week that pays big and focus my best at delivering quality work, than a few that pays below average. I think in the past year I rejected around 50 prospects.

  12. says

    Probably depends on how aligned it is with what you’re trying to do. If aligned, will probably lead to bigger things anyway, can be a little more accommodating. If not aligned, probably doesn’t matter what the price is and definitely not if too low. Then again, could always be a new market opening up but those are rare so need to use a little bit of judgement.

  13. says

    I seem to be very popular right now as my website is getting clients, my friends have referred clients to me and my profile has been under attack by clients who see my ratings and performance. I went from 6 clients to 16 in a matter of a week and it is hectic. However, I just think of the days (not too long ago) when I had no clients and was starving. Now, I just take them as they come and dedicate a certain amount of time to each project per day. Then I hammer them out and get them done as they come. I may have a bunch of clients, a bunch of emails and a bunch of phone calls coming in everyday but this is/was my goal in the first place, right?

    I say take em while they are coming. I mean, fishermen don’t turn down fish if they are biting right?

  14. says

    Hi Laura: Great question. My most common reason for turning down work is the reason Avonelle identified. It’s either something I do not choose to do or it’s not really my niche.

    With the former, I made a business decision a few years ago to work smarter by being more selective in the focus of my work. For the latter part of that reason, I never say never to something outside my niche (which is primarily the healthcare industry), particularly if it’s something I like to do – like case studies. So that part gets the it depends comment.

    For example, a former client left her healthcare industry position for one in logistics (global supply chain) and called me to write for her. I knew absolutely zilch about that industry. It has turned out to be one of the most fun and lucrative assignments I have. But, then my client is the difference-maker.

    One thing I do is if I decide to turn it down, I always try to find someone to refer them to so they leave with a good vibe. You never know when that person might enter your world again – or where that might be. :-)

  15. says

    Should you ever turn down work? Absolutely. However, I must say that I have never turned down work simply because I did not have time to do it. If you want to take on a project, you can always make the time for it, even if it involves a bit of reorganization or negotiation like you mention.

    I turn down work when I know that the project will make me miserable (because it is badly paid, incredibly dull, etc). I like to enjoy my job, and if that means passing up the odd assignment, even if it is legitimate, then that’s fine by me.

  16. says

    Hi all, I will like to introduce everyone to freelance domain marketplace, it’s a freelance jobs marketplace where service buyers post jobs that they need to be done and freelancers submit bids to win the job. It’s totally free to post jobs. Our services include web designing, programming, writing, translation, software development, engineering, seo, marketing, advertising, copywriting, proofreading, data entry and more

  17. says

    FreelanceDomain: I don’t think this thread is the place for that. There are provisions on the forum for your promotion.

    I just wanted to warn you, in case you get banned.

  18. says

    I believe in turning down freelance work for the various reasons stated before such as shady client, almost impossible requests etc. But I do agree with DesignFacet that it’s not worth it to hassle myself with 10 low paying clients instead of 1 or 2 big clients that will challenge me to bring quality work in the end. Reputation runs concurrent with confidence, I have a lot at stake when I choose to turn down a client for good reason(s).

  19. says

    As someone who is new to freelancing, this article has been a big eye opener to me.

    I have turned down many jobs simply because I dont have the time to do them or the money offered was too little.

    I am a stay-at-home dad so my time has to be managed on a day-to-day basis as small kids dont understand that when your working you cant be playing… and sometimes visa versa for me.

    Its hard to manage family life and work life so more often I am turning work down simply because I dont know if I can hit a deadline because I can’t always know if im going to be able to work 50 hours a week or only get 20 or 30 hours in a week. Most of my work is done at night, and sometimes into the next morning.

    So, normally I take on larger jobs with longer deadlines as this gives me the time I need to do the work and larger jobs normally mean better money too.

  20. says

    Yes I know many types of part time or full time works are available in Freelancer sites, so many people has been working their projects, but they are not getting some perfect money’s of their works. Actually I am also checked these sites and now I am happy to avoiding these sites.

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  1. […] Do you have more work than you can do right now? Here on Freelance Folder, we spend a lot of time talking about how to get more freelance work…and rightfully so. Many freelancers struggle to find freelance work. However, there’s another side to freelancing that many experienced freelancers will attest to– freelance overload Direct Link […]

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