Although many people believe that freelancers and small business owners are obligated to take every client that comes their way, doing so can actually be a detriment to both the contractor and the customer.

While saying “no” to a potential client may feel uncomfortable, doing so can help you to find the people and projects that are the best fit for you and your professional and business goals.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons you might want to say no to a client, how to do it, and how to start making sure that the clients who contact you are the ones you’ll be excited to work with.

When to Say No

Every client is different, as is every freelancer. Your reasons for declining a client don’t always have to be about money, even though that is often an essential part of your contract; you may choose to say no for a different reason altogether. Take a look at some of the most common causes that prompt freelancers to pass on a client below.

The budget is too low. Unfortunately, some clients have big dreams and little funding. Often, new freelancers feel the need to take on any and every client that comes their way, but in reality, this can end up draining their resources.

If you have a client who approaches you with a hefty project on a scanty budget, it is absolutely acceptable to say no. Don’t spend hours and hours working for a client for less than you can afford when you could be using that time to drum up work that better fits your needs.

The client is not committed. Every freelancer will eventually come across a client who has “the next big idea” but who is really not committed to making it happen. These are the clients who may approach you with a very basic plan that lacks any important details.

These are the clients who, when you tell them that an aspect of the plan or project is absolutely essential, say, “I’m not too worried about that right now.”

The worst part is that these clients often string you along on a decent budget for a month or two, and then decide to drop the project altogether, leaving you with nothing much to show for it.

If you see early signs that the client isn’t fully committed to the project, feel free to pass.

The client is a friend or family member. Sure, it might seem like a good idea to do some work for someone you’re close to, but things could get a bit awkward if you have to hound them about payments or if you have different opinions about certain aspects of the project.

Unless you are 100% confident that you can work together without any conflict, politely decline work from anyone that you spend your free time with.

You don’t have what they need. It can be a common misconception with clients that you, the freelancer, are capable of doing everything that they need. This could mean that they expect a writer to not only write their content but also code their website and provide custom graphics.

If you aren’t confident that you can get the job done, don’t take on the job. Be honest about your skillset and avoid wasting your time on a project that you wouldn’t feel good about putting in your portfolio.

You aren’t a good match. Sometimes clients will come to you with projects that are outside of your comfort zone. If you feel like a project isn’t a match because it focuses in on something you aren’t comfortable with, it’s OK to say no.

Just make sure that you aren’t turning it down just to be discriminatory. Although no one can force you to take on a project that you don’t want to do, make sure that you have solid professional reasons as to why you are choosing to pass.

The client is exceedingly difficult. If you are looking over a project proposal, and think to yourself, “This one looks like a nightmare,” because of the client’s unreasonable or overly zealous expectations, you might want to gently turn it down.

As a freelancer, you likely need room to focus on other clients, as well as your down time, instead of letting one client drain all of your resources. It’s one thing to have a big client with a massive project who lets you do what you do best with little interruption, but a demanding client who sets you on edge can only end in disaster.

How to Say No

Once you decide to say no to a client, you have to figure out how to do it. You should always do your best to be polite, considerate, and professional when declining an offer, and surprisingly, there are a number of different ways to do it that can leave both you and the client feeling positive:

  • Refer the client to another contractor. Connect them with someone who is willing and able to take on the job so that you can still say that you provided them with value.
  • Be honest about your skills. If you can’t do it, then say so. The client will appreciate your candidness, and may come back to you with a better suited project down the road.
  • Quote high. If the project is a monster, or if you know the client has an excessively low budget, give them a quote that matches what they are asking you to do. This helps to weed out clients who are uncommitted, have low budgets, or who come to you with monstrously difficult goals.
  • Offer a cheaper solution. If there are online services that do what they are looking for, or if you think a student could take on the project at a lower cost, let the client know. They’ll appreciate you for it.
  • Offer a different timeframe. If you can’t take on a project simply because you are all booked up, let them know when you can take it on.
  • Let them know what you need to complete the project. If you are overwhelmed by the time or resources required of you to complete a contract, let the client know. If they can meet your needs, great. If not, then at least you still gave them the option to work with you.

It’s not a bad idea to draft a few responses to have on hand in case you aren’t sure what to say in the moment. Make sure that whatever you choose to say, you’re clear, kind, and if possible, helpful. If you keep up a good relationship with the client, they may forward work your way when they have something that better suits your professional skills.

Finding Your Fit

Of course, the best way to avoid clients that you are keen to work with is to ensure that you aren’t attracting them. You can do this by laying out your guidelines on your website in terms of what you offer, how much you charge, and what your hours are. This can help to filter out clients who aren’t quite what you are looking for.

You can also network with other professionals to get referrals that are better suited to your personal skillsets so that you receive fewer unsolicited inquiries.

All in all, you have a responsibility to have a clear understanding of who your ideal clients are and what your professional goals are. By knowing what kind of clients can help you to become the professional that you want to be, you can recognize those who will help you to reach your career goals and take them on.

Declining Clients

No matter what your reason is for turning down a client, remember that you are a professional and should act as such. Offer resources, referrals, and solid reasons to cushion the blow so that you don’t burn any bridges. You never know, perhaps down the road they’ll have a project better suited to your needs, or funding that supports your services. Chances are they’ll remember the help that you provided and seek you out once again.

Have you ever had to turn down a client?

Posted by Brittany Foster

Brittany is a writer, editor, and content manager interested in law, marketing, and technology. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2014.