How to Turndown Freelance Clients
Clients are the lifeblood of a freelance business, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to take on new client work. As a freelancer, one of the perks of being your own boss is being able to choose which projects you want to take on and which ones you don’t. If you like what a project has to offer, you can take it. If you’re not interested, there’s nobody to force you to work on the project and you can turn it down. You may find that the more you expand your network and improve your abilities, the more clients you’ll have wanting to work with you, and the more selective you can be with projects.
There are a number of reasons that you may want to turn down a client:
- Sometimes it’s because you’re too busy working on other projects (which is a great problem to have).
- Other times it may be that the project the client is requesting isn’t in your area of expertise.
- And every now and then it’s because the client is difficult to work with and you want to avoid the headache of trying to meet their crazy demands.
Depending on your reasons for turning down a client, it’s typically a good idea to keep relationships intact in case you want to work with clients in the future.
In this article, I’ve put together a few responses I’ve developed throughout my career that have helped me with handling each case. You’re welcome to use the email templates below as a starting point if you’d like, but I don’t claim to be an email wizard so I can’t promise that the responses below will work how you expect them to:
Too Busy With Other Projects
If you’re too busy with other projects, then…congratulations! You are a successful freelancer who has found several clients and projects to work on. Props to you for working hard and keeping your schedule full. As your reputation grows and you continue to find success, I’m sure you’ll find more clients reaching out to you for help on projects. However, as much as you may want to help all of your clients with their projects, there’s a limit to how much a freelancer can accomplish on their own. In these cases, I’ve found a few techniques useful for turning down clients.
For clients that I genuinely enjoy working with and want to work with again in the future, my email to them goes something like this:
“Hey (insert name)!
It’s great to hear from you. I appreciate you reaching out, but I’m actually booked out until (insert date of availability). When are you looking to start this project? If it works with your schedule, I’d love to help out once my current projects finish up.
Clients who are reaching out to me for the first time receive a slightly more formal response:
“Hi (insert name),
Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate you expressing an interest in my services, but I’m currently booked until (insert date of availability). When are you planning to start this project? If it works with your schedule, I’d love to help out with this once my current projects finish up.
As for clients I’ve worked with in the past who may have been difficult to work with, I’ve found that being busy with other projects can be a good opportunity to kindly direct them toward other freelancers:
“Hi (insert name),
Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, I’m inundated with projects at the moment and unable to take on any new work. It might be best if you worked with another freelancer on this one, since I’m currently booked out.
Generally speaking, I’ve found it helpful to let clients know when I’m available again to work on projects even if I’m currently swamped with work. As a freelancer, you don’t always know when your next project will be coming in, so it’s helpful to schedule out projects in the future if you can to keep work more consistent.
Not Your Expertise
Sometimes clients will reach out to you asking for you to perform tasks that aren’t well suited for your skills. In these cases, I usually provide a response similar to the following:
“Hi (insert name),
Thank you for expressing interest in my services. Based on the scope of the project you’ve described, I don’t feel that I would be a good fit for this project. If you need help with (insert your services), I’d love to help out, but for this project it’s probably best that you work with someone who specializes in (insert project scope).
From my experience, I’ve found that clients appreciate when you’re open and honest with them about what you’re capable of. Some clients may not understand what services you offer in the first place, so these types of emails are a good opportunity to inform them of what you do and perhaps open up a door for future projects.
Although I specialize in motion design, I’ve had people reach out to me asking for graphic design and film services. It’s easy to see how these professions can be confused, but politely informing clients of the services I provide has proven more beneficial for me than just saying “I don’t do that.” Informing clients about what I do has helped some come back to me (sometimes several months or years later) saying that they have a new project they need help with that’s relevant to what I do.
As much as you may want to tell-off nightmare clients and get rid of them, don’t light those matches quite yet. Burning bridges isn’t usually a great idea since it has the potential to backfire and reflect poorly on you. Of course, every nightmare client situation is different, but here’s an email I’ve used to help me turn down projects from clients I’ve had poor experiences with in the past:
“Hi (insert name),
Thanks for reaching out, it’s great to hear from you. I appreciate the offer for an additional project, but I’ll have to respectfully decline. Based on the last project we worked on together, I don’t feel that I’m the best fit for the work you need done. For future projects, it may be best that you consider working with another freelancer who can better assist you.
Regardless of the reason for turning down a client, I always like to start my emails with gratitude. I mean…think about it…Out of all the freelancers in the world these businesses could have chosen from, they chose me. Being selected to work on a project is a compliment and should be responded to with gratitude. I’m not perfect by any means, but trying my best to be polite and excited about each project that comes my way has led to many fortunate opportunities.
How you choose to respond and turn down clients is ultimately up to you, but it’s important not to overwhelm yourself with work. Sometimes saying “no” is necessary for your own sanity, and the best clients are the ones who understand you have limitations and respect the boundaries you set.
TLDR: There may be times where you need to turn down clients wanting to work with you. I’ve found that politely declining work and leaving the door open for future projects has led to more opportunities than just saying “I’m busy right now” or “I don’t do that.”