Confession time: This week, a prospect I’ve been chatting with over the last several months finally decided to offer me a project. The only problem is that I’m fully booked this month. It took all of my courage to tell her, “No, my schedule this month is full; can it wait until next month?” but she completely understood. She couldn’t wait until next month but is willing to wait to work with me in the future.
While it was scary to turn down the work, I didn’t want to risk producing sub-par work for our first project together and jeopardize our entire relationship. I didn’t just ignore her email, or give her a plain “No”; I went with the “No, but…” option, to see if she could wait for a time when I was free.
And that’s the key when turning down work from clients: being polite, positive, and professional. Good clients know that you work with multiple clients, and you might not be available when they need you. As long as you’re polite and professional in your refusals, they’ll keep coming back to you every time.
Here are a few more ways you can refuse work politely and professionally.
“This is out of my area of expertise”
Use this refusal when projects are truly outside your area of expertise, whether it’s because of the topic, content type, specialty, or niche.
Example: “To be honest, Jim, this project is outside of my wheelhouse. I specialize in conversion copy for industrial brands, not retail ones. Can I refer another copywriter who might be a better fit?” or “I don’t have much expertise with landing pages, as I specialize in editorial content. Can I refer a copywriting colleague who does a fabulous job with them?”
“I’m not interested enough in the topic”
I had to use this one recently when a marketing agency reached out about a project on a subject I really wasn’t interested in writing about. It would have taken too much research and effort on my end to produce the content, which always shows in my writing. So, I was honest with the prospect, and we had a good chuckle about it.
Example: “Jane, I’m a Geek and enjoy technology, but I’m not really ‘in’ to fintech start-ups. I’m afraid I don’t have the passion or interest to write about it.”
“My schedule’s full”
I already mentioned this one, but I wanted to mention a few other ways to say it. Making sure you don’t take on more work than you can handle is important as a solo freelancer. You always want to do your best for each client, so only take on the amount of work you can realistically handle.
Example: “Thanks for reaching out, Michelle, but my schedule is full this month. Typically, I need a month’s advance notice to schedule work, so, unfortunately, you’ve missed this month. Can this project be pushed to next month? I definitely have time to do it then.” (This was the option I tried with my earlier client; she wasn’t able to push it out another month, but other clients have been able to, so it all worked out.)
Bonus Tip #1: Offer to refer someone else, if you can
One way to ensure your prospect or client comes back to you in the future is by always offering to refer another freelancer their way. They may not have anyone else to reach out to, so this demonstrates your value by helping them out in advance.
A caveat to this tip: Make sure the person you refer is the right person for the job and not just another freelance writer. If they’re looking for a niche writer, no sense in sending over a generalist.
Bonus Tip #2: Quote a ridiculous rate
Sometimes, a prospect or client comes to you with a project that you’re not that excited about. You have time to do it, but you’re not that keen on it. If you joke that you’d do it for the “right” fee, this is the time to test out that theory.
Toss out a ridiculous quote for the work. Like one that’s 40 or 50 percent above your usual.
If they agree, great! You’ve got added incentive to work on this ho-hum project. If they don’t, no worries.
Reminder: Only do this if you actually have time to do it. You don’t want to be stuck working on this less-than-ideal project even with a higher fee and no time to work on it.
Do you have any other professional ways of refusing work? Let us know in the comments.