How And When to Say No to a Freelance Project

Especially when you’re just getting started, it can be really hard to say no and turn down projects. One thing I’ve learned (in the past few weeks especially), is that it’s a really important skill to work on. If you’ve been reading other blogs, advice columns, and articles from experts, I’m sure you’ve heard this before. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also said to yourself (out loud, of course): “Just say no” is really, really hard to do when you’re feeling desperate.

But it’s worth it.

As a new freelancer, I’ve found myself doing projects that I’m not quite interested in, or that I don’t really want to do, or that aren’t even worth my time for how little I’ve been offered in payment (even after negotiation). Why? In the hopes of building my portfolio or growing my network? To mangle the old adage, I was looking for love in all the wrong places. My time might have been better spent writing more for my own blog or investing more time learning how to use Adobe CC. Sure, I made a few bucks here and there, but when it comes to valuing myself and my work, I realized that I could have spent my time more wisely over the past couple of months.

This week, I turned down my first job offer as a freelancer. I was so tempted to say yes and dive right in, even though the role, hours, and wages were not right for me. After some heart-to-hearts with those close to me—honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without my sounding boards/support network—I’ve decided to turn down an offer that I had applied for a month or two ago. The job tasks and time commitment are just too much of a hassle for the low wages, particularly to manage around a full-time job and other freelance projects.

So how did I do it? After agonizing for a FULL DAY over what to write (yes, I’m talking at least 24 hours), here’s the email I sent:

“Dear [Client],

I apologize for the inconvenience, but I’ve realized that I won’t be able to commit to this job. Thank you for the offer, and please keep me in mind for future projects.

Best wishes,

Is it the best email I’ve ever written? Absolutely not. Was it worth 24 hours of emotional typing-deleting-calling my mom-writing again-deleting again? Again, absolutely not. But I sent it, and for that, I’m proud of myself.

Remember that you’re your best advocate. You know your skills, your strengths, and your passions. You know how much money you need or want to earn. Now, you just need to know when something is worth your time. Be respectful, be gracious, and simply let your client or potential client know that the project isn’t right for you or that you aren’t right for the project.

So what happened after I sent the email? Nothing bad. No “You’re a horrible person! Why would you apply for a job just to turn it down?” emails, no signs of the apocalypse, no response at all.

Maybe it’s serendipity, maybe it was just good timing, but right after I turned down that offer, one of my other clients requested that I take on a few more projects for her—projects that fit my skills a lot better and frankly, that I’m going to enjoy more.

So be your best advocate, and say NO. If you need somebody to agonize over an email with, send me an email at and we can do it together! (Hopefully it won’t be as painful then.)

Have you turned down a job offer or declined a project? What happened? Share your story in the comments below!

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