If you’re self-employed, turning down freelance work be difficult, especially if you’re just starting out. But overloading yourself with work can lead to unmet deadlines, and unhappy clients. These tips for politely saying “Thanks, but no thanks” from veteran writer Kate Harold are as applicable to freelance translators, illustrators, designers or web developers as they are to writers. You never know, they could end up helping you decide to say “Yes.” — MVR
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Saying no to assignments when you’re a freelancer is hard. The reasons it’s hard vary: What if I say no and they never call back? What if my work dries up next month? What if I don’t get this type of project offered to me again?
One good reason for saying no is an already jam-packed schedule. A few summers ago, I had way too much work on my calendar. It was a good position to be in, but turning down other incoming work (read: incoming money) was still a challenge.
I called other freelancers for suggestions on how to make it easier. Thanks to their advice, I now have a variety of ways to decline work that helped make my schedule more manageable, while keeping open the potential for future work from those clients.
How to Say No
Try out these strategies the next time you’re offered an assignment during a busy time:
Develop guiding principles for yourself around what types of assignments you’ll take. If a potential project comes up, refer to those principles to see if it fits into your business strategy. For example, a marketing agency I work with included “Values the written word” as one guideline for accepting new clients. A fellow freelancer instituted a dollar minimum: If a project will net her less than $1,000, she isn’t interested. Establishing such parameters allows you to easily see if the project fits into your bigger picture.
2. Don’t answer the phone.
I often find it more difficult to say no over the phone, especially if the call is from a favorite client. The simple solution? Let calls go to voicemail. Then you can take time to evaluate the pros and cons of accepting the project, without feeling the need to respond on the spot.
3. Have a response prepared.
When your calendar is booked up, make note of it. I started keeping notes like this for myself on my computer desktop: “3/12: Rest of March pretty busy” and “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.” These reminders let me respond in a way that’s better for me and my client, such as: “I’m booked for the next three weeks. Can your project wait until then? If so, I’d be happy to discuss it with you further.” This reply shows the client that I’m interested in the project, and I’m available to work on it after a certain date.
4. Offer a referral.
Have names of other trusted freelancers on hand when you turn down an assignment. This shows your willingness to help and likely will be remembered.
5. If the work is for a new client or publication, assess the merits of accepting.
If you’re offered a one-off project for someone who likely won’t have repeat work for you, perhaps it’s not worth saying yes in the long run. On the other hand, if a company is looking to assign regular projects, it may be worth considering no matter how swamped you are at the time.
6. Go with your gut.
Many freelancers swear by gut instinct. It might be that the client sounds wishy-washy, the project looks like it could get way out of scope, or the publication is known for ridiculous contract terms. That intuition usually serves you well. I recently turned down a project that gave me that “ehh” feeling. It would have brought in several thousand dollars this year. But it would have meant turning down a lot of other work for one incredibly painful project that made my gut scream, “Run!!!”
7. Don’t go with your gut.
If you need more logic in your life, try management consultant Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 system. How will the opportunity affect you 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, 10 years from now? This method allows you to quickly see the value of accepting yet another assignment in the midst of an already-busy time.
Fortunately, saying no to work gets easier. Since I began using these tips regularly, I’ve become better at spotting which jobs to turn down and when — something my entire family is grateful for.
Kate Harold is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer, editor and proofreader. She writes primarily for the health care industry, but also has covered forensic engineering, circus clowns and caps for spray paint cans. Visit her online at www.kateharold.com.
[Flickr photo by marc falardeau]