Turning down freelance work


Creative Commons License photo credit: fotogail

When I was a newbie freelancer, I feared the word “no.”

As in “No, I’m sorry that rate is too low.”

Or, “No, I’m sorry that deadline is unrealistic.”

And, the biggie, “No, I’m going to have to take a pass on that project because you seem like a potential PITA.”

Of course, I didn’t say those things. But I thought them. Then I would say “yes”—against my better judgment. Before I knew it, I was mired in unfulfilling, unrewarding, depressing work that was not a good fit for either of us.

Definitely not why I became a freelancer.

I freelance because I want control over my schedule, my life and the kind of work I do.

I don’t have to hang onto stuff that’s not good for me. I get to choose. Somehow, early on, I forgot that.

So just yesterday I passed on an opportunity that could have been fairly lucrative and long term with a well-known organization. Why?

Because, for me, the client was not my ideal.

It was clear that our approaches to even the most basic aspects of the project were not aligned. And I had reason to believe that their processes, including how to give feedback, would be less than productive for both of us.

Yikes! Did I just turn down cash-money for some ethereal, philosophical mumbo-jumbo?


I turned down an invitation for work that was clearly not right for me and my business.

It’s okay, freelance friend, to do so. In fact, I highly encourage it.

If you’re good at the craft, hard working, pleasant and diligent, you will have other, better opportunities.

Of course, I agonized momentarily over the decision. Should I or shouldn’t I?

Which is why it helps to be connected with a network of other writers.

Seek their wise counsel. Then make your decision to engage or politely decline and move on.

That’s what I did.


Reader Comments

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  1. christine says:

    Awesome! Congratulations.

  2. Sarah S. says:

    “No” is one of the hardest words for me! Great job!

    • JanO says:

      Thanks for your comment. You are certainly not alone! I would say there’s a delicate balance between saying “no” for the right reason and saying it for the wrong one. I encourage you try it from time to time, though. I knew in my gut that “no” was right for me this time. And you know what? Within hours, the time I would’ve given away to the wrong project ended up being reserved for something much better. And, honestly, being a mismatch fit is not only detrimental to the freelancer, but to the potential client. It takes a little courage to say “no” but when it’s in the best interest of both parties, I’d say that’s a definite “yes.” :)

  3. Venny says:

    Jan, excellent commentary. Though I’m not currently a full-time freelancer, I’ve been in those shoes before, and struggled with this very issues.

    It’s nice to see such a thoughtful reflection on the topic.

  4. Diahn Hevel says:

    Hooray for you! Great article. My only add is…the other reason to have a great network of writer friends is that your “no” is so well received when it comes with a recommendation or two for other writers who would be better fits.


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