Learning To Say "No"

Sometimes you need to say 'No' before a job even starts! 

Sometimes you need to say 'No' before a job even starts! 

Saying No To Freelance Clients

As a freelancer, one of the first things you need to learn is when to say ‘No’ to a prospective client. When I started, I said yes to nearly everyone. They want to give me money, right? Why would I turn down cold hard cash? When you are cash strapped, saying no seems counter intutitive. But there are good reasons to say no. 

Because sometimes it is just not worth it – for you or the client.

You have limited time, so do not let a less than awesome client take up time you could be spending on learning or landing ideal clients. 

Start by being honest when discussing a job. If you don’t have time, say so. “Hey, I really don’t think I will be able to give you the level of commitment you need right now, and I don’t want to promise something I can’t deliver.” Clients appreciate honesty, and may come back to hire you later. And, I think it’s just good business.

So, what clients should you say no to before they even hire you? Here are a few. 

When They Don't Know What They Need


They want you to manage their Facebook page, no their client’s Facebook page, on second thought, could you just build a list of packages to offer their clients? And the list goes on. This client may be a good fit later, when they know what they want. Or, they may not ever figure out what they need.   

Either way, taking on a client who isn't clear on their needs will just end up eating up your time. It is very difficult to give a client what they want when they don’t even know. Back away slowly.

The Job Is Not A Good Fit For Your Skills


This is where the honesty bit comes in again. There is a difference between a skill you are confident you can learn and taking on a job you have no clue how to do. Facebook? I got you covered. Writing, editing? On it. PPC? Not so much. I know about PPC. I can have an intelligent conversation about PPC. But manage your PPC account? That isn’t a skill I can learn over night, and I wouldn’t take the job.


If I did, I would just end up floundering around, making mistakes, and pissing off my client. It isn’t fair.

So, be upfront and honest about your abilities. Instead, steer them towards someone who can do the job. Your client will appreciate it, and you build up a little referral karma. Win, win.

They Complain About Past Hires


If they have hired multiple people and fired them all, that is a pretty good indication they won’t be happy with anyone. While there is a chance they hired complete idiots in the past, it is more likely that they are the problem.

It’s kinda like dating a person who swears all of their exes were bat crazy. There is usually a reason why past people didn’t work out. It is not you, it’s them.

When Their Approach Won’t Work


I am totally down with trying new approaches, but some things just don’t work well. If I know that and take the job anyways I end up wasting my time and having an annoyed client on my hands.(And can result in a client who doesn’t want to pay.)

For example, I have worked with clients who want to only post about specials on their business Facebook page. But engagement is a key component of being successful on Facebook, and just posting about your business isn't going to work. If I can't educate the client, then I turn the job down. 

It isn't worth my time, and I won't let them waste money on an approach that won't work. 

When They Aren't Your Ideal Client 

When you first start, you may take on clients that don't excite you. You may take on jobs that pay the bills but don't really help you move your career forward. And that is okay. But, as you grow and get experience, you need to learn to say no to clients whose jobs don't excite you. 

Slowly, you will start to curate your client list to only include work that makes you happy. And that is one of the most beautiful things about being your own boss. 

Final Thoughts


Part of becoming your own boss means learning when to say no. It isn’t always easy, but it will allow you to build better relationships with clients and use your time more efficiently. And, less headaches. That’s good too.

When you are just starting out, you might say yes to some less than perfect clients, but as you grow and learn to recognize the red flags, you need to learn when to say no. 

Thoughts? Any other red flags you avoid when taking on clients?