October 10, 2014 28 comments

3 Classy + Profitable Ways to Turn Down Freelance Clients

by Regina

How to Turn Down Freelance Clients

You’re right. It sounds crazy. “Profitable ways” to turn down work. So we’re just saying nonsensical stuff now, Regina?

Whereas normally that is the case with me, travel with me for a moment and I promise we’ll get into how each of these three ways to reject freelance work (that’s not a good fit for you) can be indirectly or directly profitable.


There are a number of reasons a potential freelance project may be a bad idea for you. // The client may not be willing/able to pay you enough, the work may be out of your specialty and not be a good fit for your portfolio (so it would make more sense to spend time on more fitting projects), you and the client may not be the best personality fit (which may mean you have communication issues and stress awaiting you), you may have so many other projects going that you don’t have the time, or, you may need to take the time you’d normally spend on an extra project to start developing products for sale, or to do some business auditing/planning, or to go on vacation.

Whatever your reason for rejecting a project, there’s only one rule. // Do not leave people empty-handed. Oh, and be courteous, even if the other person wasn’t.

And now, for my three ways to profitably reject people, I mean projects . . .


#1 >> NO, BUT HERE ARE SOME FREE RESOURCES

If you haven’t already, you’re probably gonna get some emails that make you think, “Umm, hecks to the no, I’m not taking this project.” You know, those times when people suggest a price that’s 10% of what you charge, or they want to see if you can fly to the moon and take moon selfies and then bring them back to Earth and include the images in your final deliverables for their project. Sometimes you’ll even get those emails that make you wonder if the person read ANY of your website content before asking you for help.

You don’t want to be rude, but you also don’t want to not respond. I get ya. This is where I recommend response #1: (Heck) No, but here are some free resources. This response can be a standard email you have saved, ready to go, that turns down their project kindly and points the person to at least three free resources (on your blog or someone else’s) that may help them. This is the email you want to send when you don’t have a lot of time to think of your rejection. An example email script is below:

Sandra, thank you for your email. I appreciate that you thought of me for your ______ project. Unfortunately I’m not able to take on another project of this level right now, but I do have two resources on my blog, and one from ____, that I think can really help with the _____ aspect of your workload.

  • Link to the first resource with a slight description of how it will help
  • Ditto for second
  • Ditto ditto for third

Thank you again for thinking of me and taking the time to contact me. I hope you’ll keep me in mind for the future because I truly enjoy what you’re doing with your brand.

Why is this a good idea? How can it be profitable? Umm. You gave them free resources (that were hopefully epic and truly tailored to their needs),  and you (seemingly) didn’t turn them down just because you don’t like them. They will come back in the future or send others your way if they like your work and/or if they like the resources you directed them to.


#2 >> NO, BUT HERE ARE SOME OTHER PEOPLE

When you come across a project with the right price tag, but out of niche for you, this is a valuable potential client to pass on to someone else. You’re doing the other freelancer(s) a major favor because you’re not sending them someone who is not willing to pay well. You’re sending them someone serious. If you researched your industry as a part of your freelance business plan, then you already have a list of freelancers in your niche and slightly outside of your specialty. If you don’t have such a list, I recommend putting one together. Identify a few key people in each area (that people contact you about) that  you don’t specialize in.

Now it’s time to share your valuable information with the potential client who emailed you. Here’s an email script that would really show the other person you care that they get the help they need, even if it’s not from you:

Dave, this project sounds amazing and so important. Wow, I’m really impressed with what you are doing in ______. Thank you for contacting me. I agree with you that your project needs ______. Unfortunately with my schedule (or with my specialties), I don’t think I’m the best person to provide this to you right now.

I have a few suggestions of some other  freelancers that are definitely worth a look; they all have businesses more tailored to what you’re doing.

  • Link to first freelancer and why they’re a good fit
  • Ditto second

Quick thought: They’ll have a few questions/things they might want to know from you. I talk to ______ (type of freelancers) all day, and I’ve found it’s super helpful when you present the information below when you first contact them. It will help them quote you and get back to you sooner.

  • Perhaps communicate your project’s timeframe.
  • Give the freelancer a good idea of _______.
  • They may also want some links to _______.

I hope this helps Dave. Please keep me in mind if you ever have any work in _________ (areas), as that’s what I’m focusing my business on now. Thanks again for your email.

Why is this a good idea? How can it be profitable to send people to other freelancers? First, an email like this takes thought. The person receiving it will appreciate the fact that you even responded, but also the fact that you gave them actual value in the response. Not only will this person keep you in mind when they (or someone they know of) needs work done in the area you specialize in, but the freelancers you send work to are people who you can build relationships with. They’ll appreciate the work you send them, and whenever they are too busy or get projects that don’t fit them, who do you think they’ll refer clients to?


#3 >> NO, BUT HERE ARE SOME DIY SOLUTIONS YOU CAN BUY

When a client contacts you about projects that they’re not willing to pay you well for, or if you really do feel you’re one of the best people to help them, but your schedule just doesn’t allow for it, these are the moments you want to have a DIY solution (eBook, eCourse, webinar, printed workbook, workshop, etc.) that you can direct them to. Think about the questions people ask you most. What do people want to accomplish? What are their most pressing needs? Are there things they could do for themselves if they had some guidance and detailed training? What do people ask you about (on your blog, on social media, in real life) most often? These are the topics you can develop DIY or self-paced products for.

To be honest, it’s very possible that a wonderfully planned self-paced course from you is still more valuable than your client hiring someone else for one-on-one, personalized consulting or freelance work. You can explain things in unique ways and really reach a unique set of people.

So, if you eventually develop products that might answer the needs of your freelance clients, here’s an email script for how you might present those products if clients contact you for work you don’t have time for:

Jess, I’m so very honored that you’ve thought of me for this project. Thank you for your email. I feel I can relate to the position you are in because _______.

[option 1: for you to email if you can’t take on their project]

I think I have a grasp on your needs, and though (I’m unable to take on your project at that amount [or] I’m unable to take on anymore one-on-one projects like this for the next three months) I do have a few ideas/solutions that may help you.

[option 2: for you to email if you could take on their project but think your DIY solution will save them money]

I think I have a grasp on your needs. Whereas I believe I could be a great fit for this project, you seem like such a motivated, action-oriented person that I think I actually have a solution to save you some serious money.

[now, regardless of which option you chose, lead into the product you want to share]

I’ve had the fortunate opportunities to work with a number of people in your position. So many of them were struggling with the same needs and asking very similar and excellent questions that I began to dream up a DIY solution that would answer these questions and help people reach their goals. I think you might really benefit from what I came up with. It’s called __________.

Explain the top three benefits of your product and provide a link to it.

If you want to try it out, I’ve attached a complementary copy (just for you–it’s top secret so please don’t share it) of the first lesson/chapter. Also, here’s a free resource on my site that covers some of what you might want to know about your project: link here.

I hope this product is a good fit for you. Please let me know if you have any questions that will help you determine if the _________ will work for you. If you decide to invest in it, I’ll be available to answer questions you have. Thank you again for contacting me. I’m wishing you success with your project.

Why is this a good idea? How can it be profitable? The person who was considering spending Y amount for a full-on service, will likely consider X amount as a good bargain. What does this mean for you? Well, one of the biggest benefits of having products like this available is that you can stop taking on projects for less money than what you really want/need to charge. You can direct these people to your self-help solutions and save your time for clients who are ready to pay your fees. One of the biggest benefits to the client is that they are actually still getting the outcome they want, but it costs them a lot less. They’re able to reallocate those funds elsewhere and learn a valuable skill in the process–the skill you’re teaching them through your materials.


Here’s the deal:

If you have multiple work opportunities coming in each week or each day, on top of tons of other communication and tasks, some client contact may accidentally slip through the cracks, but in general it is courteous to respond to every email, even when you intend to say “no.” As stated, my #1 rule for saying “no” is to not leave people empty-handed. If you have email scripts and resources/recommendations waiting, you can spend two minutes personalizing the email, and then send it off. Think of the type of impression that leaves with potential clients.

Imagine if you got an email like these every single time someone said “no” to you. Wouldn’t you actually feel like they took time to care about your situation?

So, what do you think? Are you gonna develop some “No, but . . .” scripts for your freelance business? Do you already have some? What else do you recommend?


Photo: Eduard Bonnin via Stocksy

28 responses to “3 Classy + Profitable Ways to Turn Down Freelance Clients”

  1. This is such great advice for dealing with tricky/unpleasant situations! My favorite strategy (and the one I try to use most often) is #2. It makes me feel 1000x less guilty if I can connect a great client with a fantastic editor who’s a better fit than I am.

    My biggest takeaway here is your scripts. Brilliant! I always spend waaaay too much time writing emails that turn clients down, so having a saved script is definitely going on my to-do list!

    • regina says:

      Ashley, thank you for stopping by. I love hearing from you.

      With your brand, I’m sure you must get tons of requests. You can’t possibly take them all on; and I’m betting things change even more when you have a family and tons of other responsibilities. I agree with you about #2. It definitely makes me feel better when I have wonderful people to suggest. I feel good every time I send those emails because I know that person won’t feel lost and has some great options.

      I appreciate your comment and compliment to the scripts. Yours will I’m sure be impeccably written and save you a ton of time.

      Thank you for the feedback.

  2. Kiersten says:

    These are great tips! My blog is definitely still super-small, and I don’t get a ton of requests, but I’ve already gotten a few “hey, can you research, write about, and promote our product/company on social media?” and then when I mention payment/reimbursement, they either fall off the map, or respond with something along the lines of “ohhh we don’t have a budget, but we’ll be sharing our favorite posts (you know, the posts about THEIR PRODUCT) on social media!” Like how am I supposed to respond to that other than to say “uhm, no.”

    These are great tips for making that process easier!

    • regina says:

      Kiersten, it’s not surprising to hear that you’re getting those requests. You have a very well put together site and you have such a pleasant presence on social media. I’m glad you’re being selective about who you work with as well. That’s brilliant.

      Even though your scripts will I’m sure sound different than the ones above, I hope that getting some prepared will save you a lot of time. Thank you for taking the time to read this post and to leave a comment.

  3. Olivia says:

    This is excellent advice, Regina! I really like the responses you drafted and they will definitely be helpful in the future! It’s so hard saying no, but I think by giving the client additional resources, it makes the process less difficult for both parties. I’m definitely going to be bookmarking this valuable resource — thanks for sharing these tips!

    • regina says:

      Olivia, thank you. I agree with you. I always have a hard time saying no. It definitely makes me feel guilty most of the time. I love the idea of empowering the client with information though. It always feels better.

      Thank you for taking time to read. I appreciate your feedback.

  4. Terrific tips, Regina – and just what I need right now! I say no to a lot of projects that have nothing to do with what I’m trying to do, but I’ve also said yes to a few brands who aren’t offering a lot just because it’s a fun collaboration and I really do like their brand. Kind of makes me wonder if I should be asking or holding out for more, but I do like the chance to work with a known brand to build my portfolio – it’s a side job to my real job, so I don’t have a lot of things yet I can use to promote it. Is that shaky logic?

    • regina says:

      Kristin, lovely to hear from you. I actually think what you’re doing makes perfect sense. Your readers have to appreciate the fact that you only share stuff you’re serious about and that you enjoy. I think though, that when you’ve worked successfully with a few brands (as you have), you can start to decide if it’s time to ask for a bit more to compensate your time.

      You can link to some of your past collaborations with a polite version of, “See–this is the level of care I put into these collaborations, they take me around X hours. I love creating well thought out pieces that my audience will connect with. My current rate is $Y per hour, and I believe an effective collaboration with you would take me Z hours . . .” (I would always try, whether through a media kit or not, to let the brands know about your readership and reach.)

      But even if you choose not to do that, you’ll still be enjoying working with the brands you like, your audience will still enjoy you for it, so you’re still winning.

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  5. Nur Costa says:

    Very handy!! I haven’t had any clients from my blog yet… hahah but it’s good to know that stuff ahead… 😉
    For now I’m just writing and writing, and everything will come organically (I hope so)

    much love!

    • regina says:

      Hey, good to hear from you again. Was just checking out some of your English posts on your beautiful blog. I love that you’re doing both languages. I think that certain brands or freelance work will begin to emerge as the most logical fit for you as you keep creating your great contact.

      I love your comment because it seems you’re focused on the perfect thing: writing and being available on social media. If you don’t see opportunities organically pop up in your desired timeframe, then you can decide to ask, or to develop a different promotion strategy. But I think you’re lovely and I sincerely hope the right opportunities find you.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Nur Costa says:

        You’re so sweet.
        You’re keeping up a great job and you’re kind of my role model. Your words really encourage me. And you’ve pretty made up my day with this comment 😉

        kind regards 🙂

  6. […] you have to say no to potential collaborators and clients – here’s Regina’s advice on how to do it and stay classy in the […]

  7. Maritza Diaz says:

    I hope I have this problem soon! In the process of choosing a new site. Would love to collaborate sometime! As always, bravo!

  8. Jon King says:

    Love this!
    You hit it right on the money with “#1 rule for saying “no” is to not leave people empty-handed.”
    I started freelancing because I wanted to help others explore and realize the potential in their brand with my guided help. These potential clients have to take a step of faith and contact you and hope you will handle them with care. These tips are great ways to not “burn bridges” by saying no, and still help the client! Happy dance all around!!!

    Bravo!

  9. Maria Falvey says:

    Now this is great advice. We all want to be as busy as possible but that doesn’t mean we should take every gig – but how to turn one down is quite a conundrum… thanks for solving that.

  10. […] Tips for Turning Down Work that’s Not A Good Fit from ByRegina […]

  11. Thank you for this post Regina – I really love all of these tactics and will be putting them to use. I’m such a people pleaser and have taken on work before when I really shouldn’t have. These are all such great ways to say no – thank you!

  12. This is such a valuable post and resource, Regina. Thank you for these great tips on remaining professional but also maintaining your ground as a business person in the challenging world of freelancing.

  13. […] 3 Classy + Profitable Ways To Turn Down Freelance Clients: There will come a time in your freelance career where you’ll need to turn down a potential client for one reason or another. Regina Anaejionu makes it easy with these three PROFITABLE solutions. […]

  14. Sophia says:

    I found this to be extremely helpful! Thank you for sharing!

  15. Raluca says:

    These are all really good tips, thanks! As a designer, I can tell from the first conversations if the person I’m dealing with is a potential “problem client” and I can nicely turn them down.
    I like the 2nd solution best, and that’s what I do when I have to say no. I think that there is a designer for everyone, if I’m having trouble with a client, that doesn’t mean that everyone will too. Why wouldn’t that be true for every freelance job? So, why not recommend them someone else you think might help them? Maybe they return the favor, haha! 🙂

  16. […] 3 Classy + Profitable Ways to Turn Down Freelance Clients by Regina […]

  17. […] Legit. So, I created a questionnaire, then a workbook, then a little brand discovery process that all my clients went through before really getting started on their project. That workbook was the first digital file I sold (clients got it for free though). It still sells right here. Anyone not willing to go through that process was someone I had to direct elsewhere. […]

  18. […] 3 Classy and profitable ways to turn down freelance clients by byRegina […]

  19. Tracey says:

    I so should have read this before I started out. I’ve fallen into the trap of taking on clients who are high maintenance. But thanks for your great post as always, I’ll be bookmarking this one for sure.

  20. Precious says:

    Al-zikaamainformataon found, problem solved, thanks!

  21. […] doing the work that is right for you. But that means you have to know how to turn someone down. This post has one of my favourite things – scripts (or templates) that you can adapt to give a […]

  22. Ardis,If you are that hard on machines you might want to consider an external keyboard for when you are at home, or maybe even finding a USB or bluetooth keyboard that is small but nice for typing (maybe the Happy Hacking keyboard) and take that with you. I have to say that ThinkPads are more durable than the average laptop. Email is on the way with instructions for the employee store.

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