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The Art of Saying No: Gracefully Turn Down a Freelance Writing Gig

Mounting unanswered emails. Four pending articles, three topic proposals, a client meeting at four o’clock in a virtual NYC office you’ve booked days before. In short, it’s Drowning in Freelance Writing Work, part XX: a familiar situation for many freelance writers.

Then, you receive a new email from a familiar client, offering a lucrative writing gig. This client is a favorite; the team is courteous, deadlines are reasonable, and the payment is prompt. The offer is tempting, but you have too much on your plate. You feel guilty because you have to turn down the project, and you can’t find the words to reject the client.

Guilt — that’s a misplaced emotion when turning down freelance offers. You want to accommodate everybody, even if it means spreading yourself too thin. You’re aware that if you take the project, you wouldn’t have enough brain space or time to finish everything. But guilt prevails, and you draft an email saying you’ll accept the offer.

Before you click send, though, you should learn that you’re also allowed to say no.

The Guilt in Rejecting Gigs

Freelancing is about having the freedom to choose clients and projects. You have little restrictions; you can pursue any writing path and build a curated portfolio along the way.

So, you can say that turning down clients is part of freelancing, and you shouldn’t feel bad for not being able to accommodate a client, especially if you’re already drowning in work.

If you’re worried that no one’s going to do it, just remember that the US has over 57 million freelancers, and a huge chunk comprises writers.  There’s no shortage of takers, for now.

Assignments You should Turn Down

freealance workerIf you encounter an offer that 1) aligns with your goals; 2) is right up your alley; and 3) fits perfectly in your schedule, should you say yes right away?

No, not really. It sounds counterintuitive, and it would seem that you’re cherry-picking projects. But you don’t want to sell yourself short, so you have to turn down projects that aren’t worth the effort.

  • Unpaid Revisions – You receive a lovely thank-you email, which also asked you to tweak this or change that. Unless you failed to follow instructions or made a mistake, do not do revisions for free. You’re spoiling your client, and you’re decreasing your fixed rate.
  • Unpaid Extras – Watch out for scope creeps — those subtle changes that are added after you’ve given your quote. Make it clear before the project starts that you’ll charge for scope creep.
  • Teaching the Client – The client says you did a wonderful job, so wonderful that he or she wants you to teach them how to do it — for free. This is too complicated and unpaid.

Now, Write that Rejection Email

Take note that a rejection letter should be as graceful as your acceptance emails. You never know when you might encounter the client again, so it’s best to stay in their good graces.

  • Thank the Client. He or she trusted your skills and reached out to you, so make sure your appreciation is felt.
  • State Your Reason. No need to write a blow-by-blow account. Tell them plainly that you’ve got a full plate or that you charge extra for revisions.
  • Stay Connected. Always keep the door open. Tell the client that now’s not a good time, but you can work together in the future.

Remember, saying no isn’t a crime. In fact, it’s your right as a freelancer. You have to, however, state your rejection tastefully. You need to exert some effort in turning down the project before you go back to your mounting freelance work.