Saying “No” to a Freelance Job

The value of "no" from

If you are a freelancer–writer, designer, event manager–you have had to say “no” to a client. It’s hard, particularly if you like the client, need the work, or find the work interesting. If you feel yourself overworked, exhausted, or frustrated, here are some times you have to say “no.”

1. There isn’t enough money for you to make a profit. Your time is worth money. In America, time is money. If you take a job that doesn’t pay you what you are worth, you will have trouble making the mortgage on time and paying the bills. “Some money is better than no money,” is an excuse I hear all the time. It may not be. If you are working on a job that underpays, you are missing the chance to bid on the jobs that pay well. Jobs that underpay keep you working longer hours every day. Cure: don’t lower your prices to get the job. Under-bid and the amount you quote is how your client sees you. You will be stuck at that price point.

Time moves at different speeds for client and freelancer. Image: Trade King,

2. There isn’t enough time to do the job well. Freelancers are often called in when the company with the job didn’t plan well, or has run out of time. Beware the time-crunch job. Many companies believe that freelancers work only at night and on weekends. They become offended when you don’t want to work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on their job. In 25 years of writing for other people I have learned one truth over and over: You hand in that rush job on time, squeaking under the deadline. You are a hero, you think. You nailed the deadline. Wrong. Once the deadline has been met, the priority immediately shifts to quality. And if you don’t have it, you won’t get paid.  Cure: Quality is your first responsibility. If you can’t deliver quality within the deadline, turn down the job.

3. You are asked to take less pay this time, and the company will “make it up” on the next job. Just say no. This has never happened in the history of the universe. Why would a company that knows you will work for $X an hour one time, pay you $2X the next time?  You will hear the same story the next time, and the time after. The person who says it may mean it, but they aren’t the decision makers. And in the end, they will leave, and not be around when the next job is discussed. Cure: If you have done a project for less money before, remind the client that this is the time you need more money. If this is the first time they ask, tell them as much as you would like to take less money, you simply can’t. Don’t explain or talk about your finances. You deserve good money for hard work.


4. The job suffers from “scope creep” in a strict budget. You are asked to quote the job. You hand in a proposal. The budget it set. Two weeks into the project, the project grows a new arm and leg, and you are asked to cover those, too. Without extra pay. Cure: Cover yourself quickly by discussing how you will handle scope creep in the original proposal. Present a list of tasks you will do and a second list of those not included. Add a paragraph that says if the project expands, you will stop work and submit a new budget for approval. Then stick to it. Nothing frees up money than stopping the work. If you don’t manage scope creep early, you will never make a profit as a freelancer.

5. The client doesn’t return emails or phone calls in the proposal stage. The time a client will treat you best is when they want you to work for them. If they don’t return your calls or emails, it’s a sign of the lack of communication you will experience for the entire job. When the job is then late, it will be your fault. The cure: set deadlines for replying to emails or phone calls. “Please let me know by Friday if  X is what you are looking for,” is one way to help your client set priorities that match yours.

Quinn McDonald is a freelance writer who has made all the above mistakes more than once. She’s like to help other freelancers avoid them.