How to Tell Your Clients No

tell your clients no

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There are times that you need to tell your clients no. You may be overworked or may want to take a vacation. There’s nothing wrong with saying no, and I really do recommended it at times to keep your sanity, make sure you’re paid a fair wage and to create a work/life balance.

The question for many freelance writers is how to say no to their clients, without burning bridges. It is a fine art, but I promise that it is possible. I’ve said no to clients and they’ve still come back in the future with more work. I still have one relationship open after delivering the “no” within weeks of originally starting to work together.

How did I do it? Here are my top four tips to tell your clients no.

Start With an Apology

Whether this is a difficult client or not, starting with an apology is a great way to avoid burning bridges. The last thing you want is for a disgruntled client to give you a bad review online because of the way you ended the relationship or said you couldn’t work on a project.

The apology makes it clear that you would like to do the work, but it isn’t for you at this time. You could even start with a “thank you but…” line. Think about the way that colleges reject individuals.

Give a Reason

You don’t need to give a reason, but it can be a great way to keep the relationship for the future. How honest you are will depend on the actual reason you are saying no.

For example, if this is a client who doesn’t pay enough or doesn’t pay on time, you want to avoid telling the truth disrespectfully. Not that you would say this, but avoid anything like “your rates are ridiculously low” or “you just don’t get that when a payment deadline is set that that is actually the payment deadline; not two weeks later!”

Both of those reasons will lead to a bad reputation and burned bridges. If you want to be honest, you can and there are polite ways of doing it. I once said no to a client after discussing the possibility of a raise. When she said no, I made it clear that I couldn’t keep working at the current rate. We parted on positive terms and she referred clients to me at a later date.

I had another client who had failed to pay on time for three months straight. When I turned down the next load of work, I politely explained that receiving payments late meant problems for me. He did apologise for the delays, with various reasons, but I made it clear that I couldn’t keep working like that.

A reason could help your client realise that he or she has a problem on his end. This could actually lead to him or her making changes just to keep you as a writer. It doesn’t always work, but it is a possibility.


saying no to clients

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Make It a Not Right Now

Clients don’t always like to hear no, and freelance writers don’t always like to say no. So, what can you do?

Instead of an outright no, you could turn it into a “not right now.” That “not right now” can continue as long as you like. Just be aware that eventually clients will look for others to do their work and you could stop getting that regular email to hire you.

The not right now option is useful if you are temporarily overbooked or you’re planning a vacation. I’ve used it recently due to being on maternity leave, and explained that I’ll be back after a certain date. I’ve also used it when I’ve been away or when it has been a local holiday (as I have clients all over the world, not all will celebrate Christmas, for example).

It is worth giving a reason for your not right now statement. This will show clients that you are willing to work with them in the future.

End With a Second Apology

It is frustrating for clients to get a no. After all, it’s frustrating when you get a rejection, right? That’s why it’s very important to end your email, letter or phone call with a second apology.

This is an inconvenience. Your client was expecting you to be available, and may have even offered more pay to get you to do the work. Apologising for that inconvenience just helps to keep that relationship positive.

Are you ready to say no to your clients? It can be difficult but is something you need to do now and then. Whether you’re dealing with a PITA client or struggling with your workload, saying no is a delicate art and the above four tips should help you get started.

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