If you’re a freelancer and you’re considering turning down potential clients and projects, first I want to say congrats. Freelancing can seem like a rollercoaster as your workload can often fluctuate.

This makes it difficult to predict the future or determine whether you’re at a place in your career where you can actually say no and be picky with certain opportunities.

Then again, if you consistently push out quality work and structure your business to scale up, you’ll eventually reach a ceiling. To avoid having an overload of client work, it’s important to find ways to say no to a freelance client without feeling guilty or burning bridges.

First, let’s discuss some signs that will help you determine when you’ve reached a point that you need to turn down work.

How to Know When You Should Say No to a Freelance Client

The Work Doesn’t Align With Your Goals

Freelancers don’t have to accept every client and assignment that is offered to them. It may seem like this in the beginning when you’re just trying to start making money. In the long run, accepting projects that don’t align with your goals can backfire.

This can lead you to clash with your client or simply not be interested in doing the work period. When you aren’t motivated from the start, you aren’t productive and take longer to do the work.

It Doesn’t Pay Well Enough

Low compensation is another reason why you may want to turn down freelance work. It’s important to determine what your ideal rate is per hour and per project. This will give you a solid range so you know what your lowest price point is.

If you accept work that doesn’t pay well enough, you may end up resenting the project over time and this can affect your work life balance. It’s crucial that freelancers focus on working smarter over working harder. Charge what you’re worth and say no to projects that won’t pay you your desired rate.

You Don’t Have Any More Time to Freelance

If your work schedule is jam-packed and you barely have time for a life, you probably don’t need to be accepting any additional freelance projects in the future.

Loading too much work on your plate can lead you to feel more like an overworked employee instead of an entrepreneur. Plus, you won’t have any wiggle room in your schedule to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities or downtime.

If something comes up and you’re unable to work, you’ll fall behind and it can take forever to catch up.

You’re Running the Risk of Missing Deadlines

No one likes to miss deadlines, but perhaps you’ve been missing them or have been cutting it pretty close. This is a major red flag indicating that you already have too much freelance work. At this point, you’ll need to either raise your rates or start saying no to additional work.

If you can’t meet deadlines due to all the work you have, you run the risk of lowering your quality standards. This can hinder your relationship with your clients along with your reputation. It can also affect your ability to get worthy referrals.

How to Say No to a Freelance Client

So now that we know all the reasons and circumstances that would prompt us to turn down a new client or additional project, here are some easy ways to do it without feeling guilty or burning bridges.

Leave the Door Open

Maybe you actually want to work with the client, but it’s not the best time. In this scenario, it’s best to politely reject the proposal, but leave the door open for a possible future opportunity.

I feel freelancers have to feel very secure to turn down work they’d potentially enjoy due to scheduling conflicts. You never know when work could dry up with an existing client.

That said, leave the door open by giving them a timeline as to when you may be accepting new clients or ask them to keep you in mind for future projects. This allows either of you to come back and pitch the other in the future.

Recommend Someone Else

When I first got started freelancing, I had established great relationships with other freelancers who’d refer me to projects they couldn’t take on. This was great for me because it allowed me to grow my business.

It was also great for the freelancer because they got to help someone else out. It was great for the client because they gained a quality freelancer. Ultimately, it was a win for everyone.

Now, whenever I can’t accept a client or project for whatever reason, I always try to recommend a quality freelancer they can work with. That way, I do something to help that person and get on good terms with them even though I’m unable to accept their offer.

Be Honest

Why do you truly not want to work with the client or take on the project? Maybe you just don’t have time and the quality of your work would suffer as a result. Perhaps you don’t feel like you’re the best fit for the type of work they’re requesting. Or, you may have ethical concerns.

Often times, honesty is the best policy and others will respect you for it. A few months back, I received a referral from another writer as someone was looking for a freelancer to write about life insurance on their site. This particular writer had no experience in the area and little did she know, I am actually licensed to sell life insurance and highly educated on the topic.

I’m sure the client appreciated how my freelancer friend was honest about her skillset upfront. In the past, I’ve also said no to some of my clients who have asked me to take on tasks in areas I don’t feel skilled in. Instead of being rude or ignoring a client’s request to work with you, simply be honest if you are going to pass on the offer.

This can also avoid multiple pointless follow-ups and back and forth which will save time for all of you.

Being able to say no to a freelance client can seem difficult at first but you can do it with grace and still remain on good terms. Practice saying no whenever you feel it’s appropriate and you will start to get more comfortable with the idea of turning down clients. Plus, you’ll be avoiding opportunities that don’t fit and allowing more time to focus on your core goals for your business.

Have you ever had to turn a client down? How did you do it?