One of the major focuses of being a freelancer is acquiring new clients. However, there is another side of the coin that is rarely spoken about: saying no to clients.
There can be many reasons for declining freelance work, such as having a full schedule or needing to deal with personal issues. In this article, we will take a look at when and how to decline a project offer, as well as some potential red flags in clients. We’ve also included an email template for when you need to turn down clients, but aren’t quite sure how.
Remember that there is no shame in declining freelance work, regardless of the reason. It is not a crime to say ‘no’ so long as you support yourself and your mental and physical well-being.
Table of Contents [Show]
When to Decline a Project Offer
When You’re Too Busy
It is important to prioritize a healthy work-life balance; rejecting project offers can be a part of that. When you are too busy to take on new clients, you need not feel guilty; you can ask the client if they are able to wait or refer them to one of your peers.
When the Client is Being Difficult
If you or someone in your network has had a negative experience working with the client before, it can save you a lot of time and energy to turn down their offer. Similarly, if you feel that the client is displaying red flags in your initial conversations, following your instincts and politely declining the work may be good.
When They Haggle
Your rates are determined by a variety of factors and are usually not made up on the spot. Some clients, however, believe that they can get you to change your rates if they ask you to. If a potential client is unwilling to negotiate on any factors other than your rate, it is best to decline, as they may see this as an opportunity to haggle over other aspects of the project later on.
When Their Expectations Are Unreasonable
If the potential client has unrealistic expectations from the get-go, it may be a reflection of what it would be like to work with them. For example, if they insist a project can be completed within a month when you estimate it will take two, or if they expect a level of skill that you do not possess. In this instance, you might need to decline the project offer or risk firing the client later.
When You Don’t Want To
According to this study by the University of Toronto, nearly 80% of participants reported enjoying the flexibility that comes with freelancing, and part of that is being able to choose the clients that they work for. There is no shame in turning down work that doesn’t interest you or that you don’t want to do. You should feel comfortable turning down the job offer for whatever reason you may have, provided you are upfront about it.
How to Politely Decline a Project Proposal
✅ Respond Promptly
If you know you cannot accept the offer, inform them as quickly as possible. Prompt communication demonstrates professionalism and respect for the client’s time.
✅ Be Appreciative
Thank the client for offering you the opportunity, and express your regret that you cannot take the project. This can increase their chances of returning to you in the future, should you want them to.
✅ Be Polite
Even if your reasoning for declining the offer is that you dislike working with the client, remain professional and polite at all times to avoid burning bridges or negatively affecting your reputation.
✅ Offer Alternatives
Suggest alternative options to help the client find a suitable solution if possible. This could involve recommending another freelancer or agency or providing resources or references that might assist them in their search.
✅ Offer to Stay In Touch
Sign off your message by expressing your wish to stay in touch with the client. This demonstrates your openness to future collaborations and leaves the door open for potential work down the line.
✅ Follow Up
If you wish to do business with the client in the future, you can follow up with them after a short time and ask whether they have found a replacement, and thank them for their consideration.
How to Politely Decline a Project Offer in an Email
Subject: Regarding Opportunity - Regretful Decline Dear [Client's Name], I hope this message finds you in good health and high spirits. I wanted to express my sincere appreciation for considering me for the opportunity with [Client's Company/Organization]. After careful thought and evaluation, I regretfully inform you that I am unable to accept the project at this time. I want to emphasize that reaching this decision was not an easy task, as I hold your work and the values of your company in high regard. However, considering my current commitments and workload, it is crucial for me to prioritize my existing projects and ensure that I can provide the level of dedication and quality they demand. If circumstances change in the future or if there are other freelance opportunities that align with my availability, I would be more than happy to reconsider the possibility of collaborating. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused by this, and I trust that you will be able to find a suitable alternative to meet your needs. If you would like, I am more than willing to provide recommendations based on individuals I have in mind who might be able to assist you. Please let me know if you would like me to share those recommendations. I am here to support you in any way I can. Thank you once again for considering me for this opportunity. I wish you continued success with your project, and I hope our paths cross again soon. Warm regards, [Your Name] [Your Contact Information]
Potential Red Flags in Clients
As a freelancer, it’s essential to be aware of potential red flags in clients to protect yourself and your business. It can save a lot of time and effort to look out for these warning signs in your initial correspondence to avoid future conflict.
While not every red flag automatically means that a client is problematic, showing one or more of these signs may warrant caution or further investigation. Here are some potential red flags to look out for:
⚠️ Vague project details: Clients who are unclear about the details of their project may indicate disorganization or a lack of commitment.
⚠️ Unrealistic expectations: If a client expects a high volume of work in an unreasonably short time frame or requests services at unusually low rates, it may be a sign that they don’t value your expertise or are unwilling to pay fair compensation.
⚠️ Poor communication: Clients who consistently fail to respond to emails, phone calls, or messages in a timely manner may cause delays and hinder your productivity.
⚠️ Frequent scope changes: Clients who frequently change project requirements, add new features without adjusting the budget, or request numerous revisions without valid reasons can be difficult to work with and may not respect your time and expertise.
⚠️ Poor reputation or feedback: Researching a client’s reputation or seeking feedback from other professionals in your network can provide valuable insights about the client. If there are consistent negative reviews or warnings about a client’s behavior, it’s wise to be cautious.
⚠️ Unprofessional behavior: Watch for any disrespectful or unprofessional behavior during the initial interactions. This could include being rude, demanding, or disregarding professional boundaries. This behavior is likely to persist throughout the project.
⚠️ Excessive pressure: The constant pressure from clients to start or finish a project without allowing adequate time for quality work may cause burnout and compromise the outcome of the project.
⚠️ Lack of a formal contract: Working without a written contract or signed proposal leaves you vulnerable to potential disputes or non-payment.
Declining freelance work is a normal part of managing your freelance career. It’s important to prioritize your well-being, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and protect your professional reputation.
By recognizing potential red flags in clients and knowing how to handle the situation professionally, you can make informed decisions about which projects to accept and which to decline. Remember, saying no to a client is not a failure but a strategic choice to ensure the success and sustainability of your freelance business.