How Can I Say No to a Client Gracefully?

Dear Jodee,

I’ve applied for gigs where there isn’t a lot of detail given in the ad. When the client gets in touch with more information, I realize that I’m really not interested in going any further; the pay is either less than what I am prepared to accept or the subject or the scope of the project isn’t what I’m looking for.

How do I say No with some class when the client is clearly interested in getting started and this is not the right gig for me?


Dear Tongue-tied,

Your issue is not about not being able to say No. What you are really worried about here is what the client is going to think of you if you do.

Until the moment that you have both agreed to work together and a deposit has been paid, you are not committed to this project. You are just talking. The object is to find out whether you are both interested in working together and if you are, then you work out the details. Just because you are talking to a potential client about a project, it doesn’t mean that you are obligated to take it if the terms are not what you are prepared to accept, any more than accepting an invitation to have lunch with someone means that you have to marry them.

Ultimately, you can’t control what anyone else thinks about you (whether they are a client or not), but you can choose to be honest with the client and tell them that you can’t accept the project under the terms being offered. Do thank the other person for having considered you.

If you are going to turn something down, you are far better off doing it as soon as you realize that it’s not right for you. It may feel awkward the first few times you do it, but this is a case where you really need to put on the Big Boy/Girl Panties and just say it.

How do you handle saying No? Do you have a question about freelance writing? Share it in the comments.


One response
  1. Issa @ Ajeva Avatar

    I think it’s all about saving face here and I wonder what if there’s money involved already – Let’s say you got a 50% down payment for the project that you can’t simply do because you’ve miscalculated your time, skills and effort for the job. Is it okay to return the payment and say no? I think it will be very unfair for the client who expected you to work on the project already — as you have wasted time already.

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