The Way We Work
May 3, 2010 by Tamara Rice

In an era of economic uncertainty, a lot of freelancers may feel they don't have the option to turn down work. However, the key to successful freelancing is freedom. There are plenty of reasons to say "no" to a client and plenty of polite ways to do it.

Here are some sticky scenarios you may find yourself in as a freelancer,

and some helpful ways to negotiate your way out:

STICKY SITUATION #1: Being asked to work for non-monetary compensation or compensation far below your rate.

THE WAY OUT: Politely state that your schedule and commitments would make it impossible for you to do the job for less than _____ [insert your bottom-line dollar amount here]. If the client balks, let him know you hope he can find the right freelancer for the job and you wish him the best of luck. It really is as easy as it sounds. You're in control, and you should never doubt yourself.

STICKY SITUATION #2: Being asked to commit to an unrealistic timeline.

THE WAY OUT: Gently inform the client that you can't complete the job in that time frame, then offer up a time frame that could work. If the client accepts your suggestion, great. If she insists on her deadline, let her know you wish her the best of luck and hope she can find someone who can do it. Kindly remind her that if she can't, you'd love to do it with a mutually agreeable deadline. Chances are, if you handle this right, it's not the last you'll hear from the client.

STICKY SITUATION #3: Being asked to do something you find ethically or morally questionable.

saying no gracefully twoTHE WAY OUT: Tell the client you aren't interested in the gig. If you aren't comfortable, it's not worth doing, no matter how good the money is. Now,  it's not uncommon for an ethically-challenged client to smell your high standards through the email or phone call and react defensively. The client may even berate you for wasting his time in the interview process, but don't let it get to you. You are not the first freelancer to experience this strange little game. End the conversation, walk away.  And if there is anything to report to the authorities -- whether the right person to go to is a webmaster or a police officer -- do it.

STICKY SITUATION #4: Being asked to take on more work from a current client, when you are already overextended.

negotiating freelance gigsTHE WAY OUT: This needs to be handled well, so a phone call -- or face-to-face meeting, if that's possible -- is definitely in order. Open by telling your client that you want to figure out a way to take on the new project, but that it might take some mutual problem-solving to make it work.  Be open to where the conversation might lead, because there may be more than one possible outcome. Find the client's Plan B. Maybe you can make it work if they paid you more per hour. Maybe you could make it work if they paid you to oversee the work of a second freelancer. Maybe you could make it work if they took some current work off your plate and gave it to someone in house.  Whatever you do, don't panic, and don't say yes if you don't think you can do it.

The bottom line for freelancers is that you have the power to say no, and you should use it. Be polite, be firm, and know when to walk away from an interview process. It's not a good idea to burn bridges, but it's also not a good idea to try to cross one that doesn't look sound.

For further reading:

Sound familiar? Tell us about a time you said 'no' to a potential freelance job and why.

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

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  • ??????? ?????

    Good article exaclty i faced recently. Thank you very much!

  • Tamara

    I'm so glad this article is still making the rounds and still helpful, Brett. It's so important to learn to say no, but it is so hard to do sometimes. Thinking "big picture" is a really good way to train yourself out of fretting about the little "no's" you have to give people now and then.

  • Brett Widmann

    This is a very helpful article. I'm not good at telling people no so this was beneficial to me. Thanks!

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  • Rj Nieto

    oh dear, i cant talk about my current problem because my assignment is still active. ARGH! Y_Y

  • Tamara

    Ernie, red flags are an area I didn't really cover here, but it's true. When you spot a red flag in the interview process, no matter what it is, you should probably opt out or give them a chance to explain it. The client might have a good explanation ... but more likely than not, a red flag is a red flag.

    Natalie, good for you! Other work will come your way.

    Treuemax, you must be a good soul. Because I had a bad experience with this, I tend to think clients know what they are doing and don't want to be called out on their ethics or they'll just get vicious--it happens. But there is always the possibility that they just don't get it. Good for you for trying to help them see the error of their ways.

  • http://Noneatpresent Ernie Cordell

    It hasn't been necessary in my freelance work, apart from opting out of assignments in a phone screen before there was an actual offer (which were often preliminary and provisional offers of full-time, permanent employment).

    But when I was with a consulting firm, I saw that a number of other solid companies had submitted proposals that seemed very reasonable in price and approach, each one summarily dismissed after performing an initial study and producing a report.

    I voted no-bid and the client seemed to take it well, but my team at the firm was too hungry for business to see the red flags in the potential clients proposition & history.

  • Natalia

    Thanks I'm gonna say no to somebody right now.

  • treuemax

    normally i will try to make the client understand if he tries to make me do something which is wrong....