Freelancers: How to Say No To Your Clients Without Feeling Guilty

Becoming a “yes” man or woman is typical when you’re in the freelance business, especially when you’re starting out. You try so hard to win clients, please them at every turn, and ensure that the likelihood of receiving projects in future sky-high.

However, what about when you face a situation where saying “no” is clearly better than signing up for something you know you can’t manage due to time constraints or some other reason? How do you decline without hurting their feelings, appearing incompetent, or risk losing any chance of receiving projects from them in the future?

This is a sticky situation for many, particularly those of us who find saying “no” difficult. This is why we’ve gathered a few tips that will teach you the trick to saying “no” without doing too much damage.

How to say no to clients: Simple Strategies

First thing first: Set Priorities

Often we try to exchange what should be our top priority with work we shouldn’t have signed up for in the first place. For example, if you always have a specific number of hours set out for quality time with your family, don’t make it a habit to exchange this with work that randomly pops up.

when you say to others make sure you not saying no to yourself
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This could be true for other priorities as well, such as time for yourself, time for another high-paying project, or time for another high-value client. Be it a weekend or after-work hours, tell your client upfront that it can’t be done during those hours, and you’d be willing to do them at another time.

Practice Saying “No.”

Prone to being a “yes” man? Don’t worry that can change. How? The same way you try to learn anything—with plenty of practice! You probably face situations where people try to push you to your limits. Even though you feel like you should be saying “no,” you reluctantly choose to say yes. It is during these situations you should learn to say “no.” Understand the fact that saying “no” is not bad at all, especially when you know that saying “yes” would lead to even more unpleasant consequences.

Re-Schedule

In some cases, an outright “no” as a response is not necessary. For example, if the client isn’t in a hurry for when the project is handed in, tell him that you’ll start on it as soon as you are done with what you are currently working on. Of course, you need to convince them by providing more information about other due dates and where on your calendar their project will “fit in”. If they’re in a hurry, though, postponing may not be an option, and you might have to reject the offer.

Set Your Terms

If you’re reluctant to sign up for an assignment because you feel you’re not being paid enough, can’t offer the required services, or feel that the contract would violate “ethics” in some way, talk it out. Again, you don’t have to give an outright “no” in these situations. Perhaps, you feel you can negotiate the terms. For example, you can tell your client that with time and experience, you have realized that the market value of your work is higher.

Give objective facts and figures and point out why they could be higher in your region. Or perhaps, you could request your client to drop a few tasks and reduce the volume of work. That way, you’re not exactly saying “no”. You’re simply giving them a counter offer and the whether to accept or reject the project is totally up to them.

Replace “No” With Other Variations

This one always works when you’re trying your best to be polite! If you’re worried about offending your potential client’s feelings, you don’t always have to use this seemingly rude two-letter word. Learn the art of saying no without actually saying no!

For example, you can say, “I appreciate that you offered me this job, but unfortunately, I’m swamped with [X project].” Or, “That would be great, but it’s too bad I have to [commitment]. This time, you might have to look for someone else”.

useful phrase for saying no
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Image credit: drjuliehanks.com

Perhaps, you can simply state your busy schedule until a certain date and offer work after that date. There are plenty of ways you can “no” without actually saying it!

Just Be Polite

In the end, the best way to say “no” without doing much damage is to say it as politely as possible. Also, try, to be honest about your schedule, commitments, or other preferences it could come in conflict with. First, always try to listen to the request and avoid interrupting until they are finished. Then, tell them you’re tied up and that you simply can’t do it at this time.

Always remember that a project delayed/denied is much better than a project derailed. Not only would that waste time and money (client’s), but also result in even more “sticky” situations and a much less likelihood of the client hiring you again.

Under what situation & how do you say no to a possible or existing client? Have an experience to share? Let us know in the comment section below.

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14 thoughts on “Freelancers: How to Say No To Your Clients Without Feeling Guilty”

  1. Donna Merrill

    Hi Eddwarn,

    This is a great piece of advice for freelancers of all stripes.. web services, coaching, campaign management… anything that requires your personal time rather than digital trainings.

    I do a lot of coaching with bloggers and online entrepreneurs, but every month I limit the number of people I will work with one-on-one.

    If I don’t, then I’ll spend all my time helping my clients grow their business while mine withers on the vine.

    There’s another reason to reject clients, though.

    You know when a mentor says they want to know what you want to accomplish in order to see if you meet threshold for their coaching program? Well, you should do this AND you should mean it. You decide who you can best work with and politely refuse those who don’t match up.

    A funny thing happens when you do this.

    Quick story… I’ve been an offline consultant for years. The more I decline to work with a prospective client (for a wide variety or reasons), the more they want me to. They offer to pay more, use less of my time or whatever it takes to get me on board.

    For me, though, it’s not about money, although sometimes my time is at issue. Usually it’s about attitude and coach-ability. If I don’t think I can help someone, or if I don’t really want to try because their attitude would be a drain on my energy… I simply decline.

    I’ve never lost business with this attitude, and like I say, when the word gets out that I really am discriminating in this way, people want my service all the more.

    Imagine…

    So, yea, this is great advice. Thanks for offering it here.

  2. Sherab Tenzin

    Dear Eddwarn,

    This post gonna help me in my professional life as well as in my personal life. I am also suffering from the disease of saying ‘Yes’ to everyone and then putting my friends and family down when I couldn’t live up to that word yes/agreement. With your tactics, I think I can say ‘No’ wherever necessary just to avoid myself becoming less trust-worthy for my friends and family.

    Thanks

  3. Hi Eddwarn,

    Saying No to clients and known people is very difficult, sometimes I do say yes to so many people who will ask me some favors which I don’t like to do.

    Alternative phrases which you mentioned in this article are really very good to say NO, I will start implementing these methods in my lifestyle, thanks for sharing such an informative and worthful article.

  4. Debadeep Biswas

    Hello Eddwarn.
    Sometimes situations arise when you are unable to do the work or the work is not profitable, at that time your above-mentioned tips come handy because this is a serious business and a negative word of mouth can harm the entire business,. Sowe should learn how to say no in such a way that no one feel angry.

  5. I really loved the phrases to say no to people. I deal with a lot of customers and this will be very helpful for me. Sometimes the situations happen that you want to do something for someone but your are unable to do it because of some limitations.

  6. Hello EDDWARN Buddy,
    Yeah Seriously, Sometimes we feel guilt in saying no to customers but your handy tips can be life savior for all of us!
    Thanks for sharing seriously!

  7. Bishal Sharma

    Hello Eddwarn,
    Saying no to your clients itself is an art which every freelancer should know because sometimes situations arise when you need to say NO to your clients for various reasons. Nice tips shared by you. Thank you so much.

  8. First is to thank you for all this informative posts you give us for free; i bet all of us are happy.
    Such a great idea of yours! You have been a big help for me. Thanks a lot. more post for interesting topic. Great!

  9. We are registering a company and this tip is saying NO and don’t try to hard to win client is very good. Most of time saying yes may backfire back to us when we can’t deliver or promise the task allocated. Thanks
    Rahul

  10. Amazing topic to write a blog. One of the best quote from Steve Jobs saying :
    “And it comes from saying no to 1000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” I am totally agree with this line.

    Let me share my experience. There is a situation in which client give us two phase keywords and its search volume is very high and competition is very tough. So, practically it is not possible to bring those keywords on top 10 position within just one month of time. Here is my reply to that client :

    Hello sir,

    we respect your given keywords list but as per my SEO experience I would like to suggest you other suggested keywords which are quite beneficial for you to get sales as well as leads.

    The reason behind is that your given keywords are very broad keywords & not beneficial to get quality CTR, sales & inquiries though they have maximum amount of search volumes.

    So, it is advisable to change your given keywords & try to target some other keywords which are beneficial to get the sales & leads.

    This is a perfect reply given by me to the client and with no surprise client is very happy & give us project.

    What do you think of this answer folks?

  11. This is what I really wanted to do. Thanks for a meaningful post. Often we come across situations like this , which needs a “no”

  12. Hi Eddwarn,

    I’m in total agreement with the post. I have been getting a lot of offers lately to do some private work and the truth is I’m not sure I can handle all of it.

    Some are more lucrative than others therefore it makes it very difficult to decide which offer to turn down.

    I think one of the main problems freelancers have is that you never really know where your next project is coming from or if it will all ‘dry up’ at some point, so you begin to think it may be better to do as much as you can now to rally you through when times get slow.

    I believe that freelancers need to think more like businessmen and try to expand their reach by doing less and outsourcing more. Since all of these offers are coming in that’s the way I’m heading now. It allows me to take on more jobs while not doing all the work myself. It also allows me to have some free time.

    Saying no is great advice but freelancers should also look long and hard at their business model and tweak it. They may begin to realise they don’t have to work as hard after all.

  13. Hi Eddwarn,
    Every freelancer goes with this situation and major reason are like project budget, busy with other project, client not good etc.
    Provided phrases will definitely help me and all freelancer around the world. Thank you so much for guiding millions of freelancer.

  14. Hello EDDWARN Buddy,
    Seriously, Sometimes we feel guilt in saying no to customers but your handy tips can be life savior for all of us!
    Thanks for sharing seriously!Keep us the good work

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