For many freelancers, the idea of passing on a gig or project seems totally counterintuitive. When it’s feast or famine, shouldn’t you take whatever you can get your hands on?
Sure, sometimes you need to do what you can to pay the bills. But when times aren’t desperate, it’s worth recognizing which opportunities are deserving of your time and attention–and which ones you’re better off passing on.
Not commonly found in a freelancer’s vocabulary is the word “no.” However, there are some gigs and projects that simply aren’t worth it. Here are a few instances when you should think twice about taking that client on.
1. When your plate is already way too full
There’s nothing worse than over-promising and under-delivering, and that’s an easy trap to fall into if you’re already feeling spread thin.
Are you struggling to make adequate time for the multiple projects and clients you already have on your roster? Do you feel like your quality is starting to slip because you’re trying to cram as much work as you can into any given day? You don’t need anything else added to your to-do list, so it’s in your best interest to turn down that gig–at least for now.
Related: How to get better at saying “no”
2. When the pay doesn’t meet your expectations
I’m not ashamed to admit that I worked for very low pay when I was just getting started as a freelance writer. My focus was on getting published clips to build my portfolio–and with little experience, I didn’t feel justified in demanding high rates from people who were willing to take a chance on me.
But once you’re a little more established, you have a much better grasp of what you’re worth, and you’re justified in asking for that.
With that being said, there are times when your prices are going to be out of reach for clients with less wiggle room in their budgets. That doesn’t mean you need to dip to a rate that makes you uncomfortable. Instead, you’re better off accepting the fact that you and that client just aren’t a good fit together.
3. When you aren’t excited about the work
Much like any other job, you aren’t going to be over the moon about everything you get to work on as a freelancer. However, you are allowed to be a little selective in terms of finding work that ignites some enthusiasm.
Maybe that client seems like they’d be really difficult to work with. Or perhaps the assignment seems completely snooze-worthy to you. Regardless of the specifics, if you’re not in a position where you have to take on work for the income, don’t feel pressured to accept projects that make you groan. Chances are, you won’t end up being proud of what you produce anyway.
How to pass on that freelance opportunity (without burning bridges)
After a little bit of self-reflection, you’ve decided that the opportunity just isn’t right for you at this point. Now what?
This is the nerve-wracking part. It’s never fun to tell an eager prospective client that you’re going a different direction, but there are a few tips you can use to let them down easy–and avoid having that professional relationship go up in flames.
1. Be gracious
Even though you aren’t accepting the gig, you should still be appreciative of the opportunity. Remember, that client has invested some time and energy to get to know you and vet your skills, and that deserves some appreciation.
What to say: “Thank you so much for getting in touch about this opportunity. I really appreciate you thinking of me for this project.”
2. Give a brief reason
You don’t need to dive into all of the dirty details. But especially if you engaged in continued discussions with that potential client, a simple, “Thanks, but no thanks!” is probably going to leave them wondering what happened. Be prepared to give a brief justification about why you need to pass on that opportunity so they aren’t left feeling confused, blindsided, or duped.
What to say: “Unfortunately, I took a look at my schedule and upcoming workload, and I think my plate is a little too full to take this on right now.”
3. Provide a referral
Turning someone down is tough to do, but providing a referral for another freelancer can be a great way to soften the blow–and support other freelancers in your community.
Before rejecting that prospective client, put some feelers out to your freelance network to see if anyone else is actively seeking work and would be interested in an opportunity like the one you’re turning down. If so, you can offer that person’s contact information in your rejection email. It gives the client a great next step after realizing that you won’t be working with them.
What to say: “I did connect with a fellow freelance writer, Jane Anderson, who specializes in writing for e-commerce companies. She mentioned that she has some room for additional work right now, and I think she’d be a great fit for this project. If you’re interested, you can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
4. Express your desire to remain connected
Just because you’re passing on the gig right now doesn’t mean you can’t keep that person in your network–you never know what could happen in the future.
Wrap up your message by stating that you wish them all the best and that you’d love to keep in touch. The important final step? Make an effort to actually do that.
What to say: “Even though we won’t be working together right now, I’d love to keep in touch, so I just sent along a connection request on LinkedIn. Wishing you all the best with this project!”
Having to turn down a project seems to go against everything you think you know about making it as a freelancer. But believe me, the time will come when you simply can’t accept every gig that lands in your inbox.
Use this as your guide to pass on that opportunity–while keeping your reputation and that professional relationship intact.