Freelancing 101: How to Know When to Say No

When to Say No to a Freelance Gig

Freelancing (aka being your own boss) can be tough. Managing yourself, your schedule and your whole business is a lot—and when you’re conflicted on whether or not to take the next job, it can feel like adding one more burden. So we’re here to ease that stress and help you know when to say no to a freelance gig. Follow these steps and you’ll start to see how your intuition and boundaries around freelancing will get stronger the more you practice!

Step 1: Outline Your Worth and Your Whys

Some might call it setting boundaries around your freelance career. Others might simply call it creating criteria. But knowing (1) your baseline rate for all types of work and (2) your personal code of ethics will be the two key metrics that you can use to evaluate every job that comes your way. In terms of your rate, you need to get as specific as possible. Outline your rates for every type of job, plus any non-negotiables. It’s also helpful to create monetary value around additional requests or outline the occasional discount for select offerings. For example, if a client wants you to offer design direction for a brand book, but also design the entire brand book itself, it’s great if you already outlined the cost for each task. In terms of discounts, you may offer a one-time discount for new clients or friends and family. The more specific you can be around your worth and your code of ethics, the stronger your gut feeling will be when it tells you to say “no” to a soul-crushing or low-paying job. 

Step 2: Evaluate Against Your Criteria

Think about why you are conflicted right now. Do you really want to take this job or are you purely desperate? Are you interested in this work but your initial meeting left you feeling uneasy? If you can pinpoint what’s throwing you off, you’ll have an easier time saying “no thanks.” Then there will always be the jobs that offer mediocre pay for a ho-hum job that you can probably do in your sleep. Remember that saying yes to a job like this means you’ll likely get more of it in the future. Others will come calling once they see the great job you did and ask you to do similar work. If you’re being asked to do something you only want to do right now, you could be stuck saying no repeatedly in the near future. If it’s not 100 percent the work you want to be doing for the right pay (remember your above criteria!) then that might be a “no” from you. Instead, you’ll have to seek out better opportunities.

Step 3: Evaluate Against Past Jobs

Sometimes it’s not the work you want to say ‘no’ to—the work is very much in line with what you want to be doing and they’re willing to pay you what you asked. But there’s something else about the job that’s not sitting well. The manager reminds you too much of that other person from the past, or the client communication is off, sparse, and/or avoidant. Whatever it is about the situation, you’re put off in some way. Even though you know this is just a freelance gig and you can say no to them in the future, you also wonder if working with this particular client is worth your time right now. In this situation, all you can do is evaluate what you’re witnessing against your own past experiences. If your intuition tells you to steer clear, then listen to it. If you find you’ve grown or are a different person who can handle this situation better, then maybe it’s a yes! Only you will know based on learning from past mistakes. 

Step 4: Still Unsure? Wait another day or two.

Take some stress off your plate, because there is no issue with saying, “I’ll get back to you by [X day] with my answer.” This is totally your right. Don’t skip out on valuable time thinking it over, especially if it’s a big job with a prominent client that you are feeling iffy about. Ask your community for advice. Research the company further. Ultimately it’s you who needs to make the decision, but with time, advice, and research, you can make a more informed one.

Freelancing is never easy, but with practice and self-evaluation (like the above tips) it will get easier the more experienced you become. Remember to take time to make your decisions and, if you're looking for your next gig, we might just be looking for you.

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