One of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer/work from home contractor is the fact that you can almost never guarantee steady work. It seems to me that I’ll have a month of two where keeping my workload to forty hours a week is impossible followed by weeks of depressing nothingness. As a result, I have found myself accepting work that I have no business no doing.

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to say no to clients.

Why Should You Say No?

Freelancers everywhere can identify with the sick feeling of having no work to do. It is boring and poses a direct threat to your livelihood. When work is slow, I’ve noticed that I become way too willing to accept work and projects that I shouldn’t. Super complicated writing that requires a degree that I don’t have? Sure! I can handle it! Lengthy assignment on an inhumanly tight deadline? You betcha!

Most of the time, these projects go terribly awry.

Here’s a quick list of all the reasons why you may want to consider telling your clients no:

  • You cannot possibly finish the project by the required deadline.
  • You do not have the technical expertise to complete the assignment.
  • The client has asked you to do something that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Completion of the assignment will jeopardize your ability to work with other clients in the future.
  • Working on the present assignment will sour your relationship with the client.

The fact of the matter is that if you are not assertive enough to say no to your clients from time to time, you run the risk of submitting work that will not meet the client’s specifications. If you do that you risk future assignments from the client.

How to Tell Clients No

Now that you know why you should tell you clients “no,” we need to think about how to do so. I know, I know. It’s easier said than done.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. It is always better to frame your “no” as being for the client’s benefit. For example, if a client wants me to work on something that I do not feel qualified to do I will say something along the lines of:

“I really appreciate you bringing this to me. However, I really do think that you would be better served by working with a patent lawyer on this one. If you would like, I’d be more than happy to take a crack at drawing up a decent outline, but I think it’s best to leave the actual writing to someone with more experience on this sort of work.”

If I’m asked to do something faster than is humanly possible, I usually throw out:

“Thank you so much for trusting me with your project! I noticed that you would like 14,000 words by midnight tonight. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the going rate for most writers of my caliber is 1,000 words per hour. I’d love to work with you on this, but I think we should discuss a more realistic timeline.”

If I’m asked to do something that makes me uncomfortable:

“Wow! This certainly is an interesting project! Right now, I’ve got a lot on my plate and I’m not sure that I will be able to devote the time you need. It’s probably best if you find another writer for this.”

The point of all this is that it is possible to say “no” to your clients gracefully and effectively. Moreover, knowing when to say “no” can make the difference between maintaining a valuable source of potential income and destroying one permanently.